Downtown Lynchburg outlets reach out to locals in a variety of ways
Small businesses live and die by community.
For a small business to be deemed successful, it must find a need in their community and reliably meet that need. Forbes posted a list of what local businesses need to be successful, and for the most part downtown Lynchburg’s host of shops and restaurants fit the criteria.
But Lynchburg’s relationship with small businesses is unique, and the variety of local establishments say as much about the current community as they do the history of the city.
The Lynchburg Community Market has deep ties to the history of Lynchburg.
Founded in 1783, the Lynchburg Community Market is three years older than the city of Lynchburg. The market is the third-oldest market in Virginia and brings in hundreds of visitors every week.
Market Manager Jennifer Kennedy said the gathering shows that the heart of Lynchburg is in small business and community.
“I think one of the unique things is the foundation of our community is based upon entrepreneurship and is based on small business,” Kennedy said. “It came from commerce, which is really where Lynchburg’s roots are.”
According to Kennedy, the community attraction is what has kept the market open for hundreds of years.
“I think there are a lot of businesses that would choose to go elsewhere, but they love to incorporate into their business model that community engagement because they know that this is a place where you have generations who have had this be their meeting place,” Kennedy said. “They’re handing down the tradition of Saturday market with their family, and this is a place where you see people starting traditions where all of a sudden you see families are coming and they have their kids and this is how they start their weekend.”
The market is completely run by local vendors and brings in farmers, craftspeople and local artists.
Kennedy sees how customers value local traders through their purchasing habits. They want more than just a product.
“We know that we’re living in an Amazon world where you can get anything on your doorstep in two days,” Kennedy said. “But money has become really important with people, like whose hands they put it into as well. So, they not only want to know the person, but they want a relationship with the product.”
Grassroots Local Market
While the Community Market has grown with the city, Grassroots Local Market is unique in the way it relates to the residents.
The Lynchburg grocery co-op offers ownership rights to the local community through a $200 buy-in. This gives them discounts, the ability to run for the board of directors and lifetime ownership of the store.
Lynchburg had been without a local grocery store for two decades. Operations Team Manager Kody Rogers said the community needed one as Lynchburg’s resident numbers are on the rise.
“Downtown doesn’t have the dynamic or the pull to attract a major chain grocery store, so the only way to make that happen was if the community got behind it and made it happen themselves,” Rogers said. “It’s basically a credit union but for food.”
Since its opening in September 2018, Grassroots has been focusing on local, organic and non-genetically modified products. The store focuses on sourcing locally and benefiting the local economy, but they have recently had to adjust for local wants and needs.
“We noticed that there are a lot of things the people in this area just aren’t willing to buy and spend the extra money on organic, so we’re kind of pivoting our business model a little bit,” Rogers said. “We’re trying to please everybody that stood behind us and made this business a success so far. We want this to be their store. We want them to be part of the shop here.”
Rogers said along with the products being tailored to the community, Grassroots is striving to provide an old-world grocery experience, meaning the store will go above and beyond to serve their community.
“We’re kind of providing that, not only the grocery but the experience that goes along with it,” Rogers said. “We will do everything we possibly can for you. If you want us to make this extra-large pan of ‘that,’ we can do that. If you need help carrying your groceries four blocks to your car, we got you.”
The Water Dog
The Water Dog is unique. As other businesses look to create a relationship with the customers, this bar and grill seeks to connect with businesses around them as well as the public.
“It is not something that we do just because it’s so much fun to have other partnership,” owner Dave Henderson said. “It’s fun, but it’s a core aspect of what this business needs to be in order to be successful.”
The Water Dog collaborates with the community through buying supplies locally, hosting events and inviting local businesses to partner with them on a variety of projects. Whether through getting the record store to play music, creating discount deals with other businesses, or hosting events like a benefit concert, the Water Dog seeks to connect with the local merchants as well as residents.
The Water Dog believes that, if they attract enough attention downtown, people will eventually make it to the restaurant.
“They may not come here the first time, but eventually they’re going to come here and have fun,” General Manager Chris Henderson said. “You don’t always have to come here, just come downtown. It’ll be our turn eventually.”
Even the menu has been inspired by the local restaurants. Executive Chef Conner Garrett has been trained by a variety of downtown restaurants, including Isabella’s, the Corner at Rivermont and the Westminster Canterbury.
“I feel like this place is a culmination of all of those places that have given me knowledge over the years,” Garrett said. “I’m using all of that information every single day.”