Interest in a small downtown grocery story or market appears to be strong based on a turnout Tuesday night at an open house at an empty Front Street building.
The building, located at 514 W. Front St., was formerly occupied by Big Johnson’s Doc Haus. It has been renovated by developer Andy Unerstall and is now available for sale or lease.
The open house was sponsored by Downtown Washington Inc. and Unerstall, who also developed the adjacent Rhine River Development, which includes townhomes and a restaurant.
“I was hoping for at least 40 people and we had 87 people total stop in,” said Bridgette Epple, executive director of Downtown Washington Inc.
“We had a big tablet for people to write down what kind of businesses they would like to see at this site or somewhere downtown and most said a grocery store,” she said. “Some people also said a deli or meat market, and there’s no reason we couldn’t have a combination of all three under one roof.”
Epple said ever since Droege’s Supermarket closed, her organization has been working to get a small market or grocer downtown, which has seen an increase in residential living.
“We would love to see a market downtown, but more importantly, we just want to see the space filled,” she said.
Unerstall was on hand during the open house to answer questions.
On display were four-color architectural drawings showing how the now empty, raw space would look as a grocery store or a restaurant/pub.
“I think the drawings really helped people see the potential of the building,” Epple said. “We also passed out packets on other available properties downtown.”
Another open house is planned in January, she added.
“I don’t know where yet because it will depend on what spaces are available,” she said. “Our goal is to have all of the empty storefronts and buildings in the historic district put to use.
“And that’s why we’ve started to host open houses — to spur interest in someone buying a property or opening a business in one of them.”
Epple said active spaces are much better than empty spaces.
“There were a lot of good ideas Tuesday night, so we’ll have to see what happens next,” she said. “We will continue to talk to people who have expressed some interest in utilizing the space and keep looking for any potential entrepreneurs.”
Unerstall said the Front Street building could be divided or added on to. A renovation to the rear of the building is now complete and there is potential space for a second-floor business, residence or a rooftop deck.
Unerstall, who is president of the Downtown Washington Inc. board, said he hopes other building owners with empty space will contact the organization about holding an open house in the future.