Turn­ing the Cor­ner

Sper­ryville Cor­ner Store own­ers look­ing for some­one to mind the store … and two pop­u­lar restau­rants

Rappahannock News - - FRONT PAGE - By Roger Pianta­dosi

Sper­ryville’s Cor­ner Store/Thorn­ton River Grille com­plex is for sale.

The Thomp­son fam­ily — Ken and Mary, their son Andy and daugh­terin-law Dana, who have owned and op­er­ated the 150-year-old coun­try store and ad­ja­cent Thorn­ton River Grille and Rudy’s Pizza since 2000 — is hop­ing the even­tual buyer turns out to be among the half dozen or so who have ex­pressed an in­ter­est over the years in own­ing the busi­ness and prop­erty that an­chors Sper­ryville’s bur­geon­ing down­town.

Those prospec­tive buy­ers, Ken Thomp­son said, “had ap­proached us pretty much out of the blue. And we’ve al­ways said, ‘The time’s not right, but if we do . . . we’ll keep you in mind.’ ”

The time’s now right, Andy and Dana Thomp­son said the other day, for a num­ber of rea­sons — among them the cou­ple’s hopes to re­turn to Texas soon, and Ken and Mary Thomp­son’s de­sire to slow down, if not quite re­tire. The younger Thomp­sons hope to start a new ven­ture and be closer to the fam­ily and friends they left 16 years ago, when they moved to Vir­ginia to help run the store their dad bought from long­time owner­op­er­a­tor Ran­dolph Clater — a lo­cal fix­ture who con­tin­ued to work at the store, and live in the house next door, un­til his death last Septem­ber.

Though Ken Thomp­son said the sales price has not yet been set, in­ter­ested par­ties might be wise to start their cal­cu­la­tions at seven fig­ures. (The as­sessed value of the prop­erty and im­prove­ments to­tal about $956,000.) Ken Thomp­son said he paid $275,000 for the store.

That was in 2000, when Ken Thomp­son said the fam­ily saw an op­por­tu­nity to reestab­lish the store as a pri­mary sup­plier of high-qual­ity meats, seafood, pro­duce, gourmet foods, fine wines and craft

beers. Like many for­merly essen­tial coun­try stores sell­ing sta­ples and house­hold goods, the Cor­ner Store had been by then sup­planted by “mega stores” in neigh­bor­ing Fauquier, Culpeper and War­ren coun­ties.

They also en­vi­sioned us­ing pre­vi­ously un­used space in the build­ing, and ren­o­vated ex­ist­ing space to cre­ate the Thorn­ton River Grille, which opened in Novem­ber of 2003. The Grille was an im­me­di­ate suc­cess and helped es­tab­lish the Sper­ryville busi­ness as a des­ti­na­tion where cus­tomers could shop and dine in a great small town set­ting. In 2006 the des­ti­na­tion con­cept was fur­ther en­hanced with the open­ing of Rudy’s Pizza.

The fam­ily’s first ren­o­va­tion, though, was to carve an apart­ment out of the space above the store — which is where Andy and Dana lived for their first seven years in Vir­ginia, rais­ing their son Will, who was born in Texas, and daugh­ter Wyn­nie, born here not long af­ter the move.

The Thomp­sons ex­panded again in 2007, in their char­ac­ter­is­tic fan­fare-free way, with a 900-square-foot ad­di­tion, the roof pro­vid­ing space for an out­side din­ing deck that, in warmer months, dou­bles the seat­ing ca­pac­ity of the Grille and Rudy’s.

“We wanted to make the Cor­ner Store en­ter­prise a des­ti­na­tion,” said Dana. And these days, Sper­ryville — long an af­ter-hik­ing des­ti­na­tion for those vis­it­ing Shenan­doah Na­tional Park — “is it­self be­com­ing more of a des­ti­na­tion ev­ery day,” she said.

Through the first eight or so ex­pan­sion/ren­o­va­tion years, Andy said, the fam­ily in­vested its time and rein­vested in the build­ings; in more re­cent years, he says, the busi­nesses have re­turned a mod­est profit.

“And it still has po­ten­tial for growth here,” Dana said. “There’s un­touched real estate up­stairs . . . and that’s ex­cit­ing for some­one, be­cause it’s al­ready a prof­itable en­ter­prise with a won­der­ful staff — but there are still pos­si­bil­i­ties.”

Andy and Dana Thomp­son be­lieve the com­plex’s big­gest sell­ing point — even more than its lo­ca­tion, smack in the mid­dle of your wind­shield at the county’s old­est com­mer­cial cross­roads — is the store’s and restau­rants’ staff. “The way things are now, each per­son can man­age the dif­fer­ent busi­ness they’re as­signed to . . . the place re­ally can run it­self,” said Dana.

Andy and Dana Thomp­son said they hope to be on their way to Dal­las be­fore the end of this sum­mer, as their 16-year-old daugh­ter, al­ready a familiar face, and voice, on lo­cal stages these past few years, has been ac­cepted at a per­form­ing arts school there. Andy said he and Dana orig­i­nally com­mit­ted to five years, but then . . . one thing led to an­other.

“We’re go­ing back to Texas,” Andy said, “be­cause that is home — but Rap­pa­han­nock has been such a spe­cial place to us . . . . The hard­est part about leav­ing is go­ing to be say­ing good­bye to the peo­ple here. We have met and got­ten to know some re­ally won­der­ful peo­ple. We’ve made some life­long friends, and will look for­ward to com­ing back to visit.”

He and Dana started vis­it­ing Rap­pa­han­nock in 1993, Andy said, when Ken and Mary first moved to Sper­ryville; since his par­ents will be stay­ing here, he said, folks can ex­pect reg­u­lar vis­its back to Vir­ginia.

The fam­ily, Ken Thomp­son said, hopes to find a buyer for the Cor­ner Store/Thorn­ton River Grille com­plex who will con­tinue their tra­di­tion of run­ning a suc­cess­ful small busi­ness, “will be pas­sion­ate about Sper­ryville and Rap­pa­han­nock County, and will con­tinue to em­ploy the spec­tac­u­lar peo­ple who grad­u­ate from Rap­pa­han­nock High School and live in the county.”

Last year, the Thomp­sons sold Tula’s Off Main, the fullser­vice restau­rant and bar they’d built in the Kramer Build­ing on Wash­ing­ton’s Gay Street, and the three-story build­ing it­self to jour­nal­ist John McCaslin and at­tor­ney Mark Allen. Af­ter the sale, Allen said that he’d “never dealt with a seller of such up­stand­ing char­ac­ter as Ken Thomp­son,” dis­tinctly high praise from a buyer with the back­ground of one such as Allen — who spe­cial­izes in real estate.

Dana and Andy Thomp­son

Ken Thomp­son

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