THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: Sunday, December 17, 1995 TAG: 9512150177 SECTION: SUFFOLK SUN PAGE: 18 EDITION: FINAL SOURCE: BY ALLISON T. WILLIAMS, STAFF WRITER FRANKLIN LENGTH: Medium: 88 lines
EVERY WINDOW in the Airway Shopping Center on U.S. 258 had been dark or boarded up for two years, except for those in the Winn Dixie supermarket. As store after store left, the shopping center became a virtual ghost town.
But a spirit of change has swept through Airway over the past six months, bringing 11 new small businesses that are ``thriving,'' center manager Rob Stanton says.
``It's becoming a very, very active little mall,'' owner Bill Bach says. The Potomac, Md.-based real estate developer bought the Airway center last June from Home Beneficial Life Insurance Co. for $614,697.
Airway is at 1323 Carrsville Highway/-U.S. 258, just over the Franklin city line in Isle of Wight County and not far from Carrsville.
Thanks to Bach's management company, Franklin Associates Inc., which Stanton runs, 80 percent of Airway's 40,500 square feet is leased, Stanton says, and space remains for just two more stores.
An array of small, service-oriented businesses has moved in: a finance company, dry cleaner, beautician, janitorial service and two restaurants. A carpet retailer, a medical supply warehouse and a dollar store also are open at Airway, and Stanton says a sporting goods and memorabilia shop are scheduled to relocate there in late January. Also, Local 1488 of the United Paperworkers International Union, which represents employees at Union Camp Corp., has an administrative and meeting space in the center.
Bach plans to build a community catering hall, taking up 10,000 square feet of space, where people and organizations can rent three formal meeting rooms holding up to 500 guests for such events as holiday parties and wedding receptions.
Before Bach bought the shopping center, Winn Dixie had planned to build a new store on the other side of nearby Franklin, county Economic Development Director Lynn Harris said. Although the supermarket is still scheduled to relocate and construction is under way, both Harris and Bach say they are confident Winn Dixie officials will decide to operate both the Airway store and the new Franklin store. Winn Dixie officials in Raleigh could not be reached for comment.
``I'd even wager money they will decide to keep that store open because it will be making enough money,'' Bach said in a recent telephone interview from his Maryland home. Even if Winn Dixie does close its Airway store, he said, three other supermarket chains have expressed interest in leasing the site.
Bach also has plans to develop the 12 acres surrounding the shopping center for activities that would include a skeet shooting range and fishing areas at the lake behind Airway.
The Winning Edge, the sports store scheduled to move into the center early next year, also plans to build a batting cage and basketball goals for sports tournaments during warmer weather, Bach said.
``I'm going to be building other stuff down there, too,'' but he declined to elaborate.
``Our main goal is to draw business back into that end of town,'' Stanton said. ``We want to make our center a place where people want to come and shop.''
To do this, Stanton said, the shopping center has sponsored carnivals, concerts and daily flea markets over the past six months.
Business at Airway Shopping Center had been on the decline for the past five years after two of its anchor stores closed, Harris said. People's Drug Store closed in 1990, and Ames Department Store followed.
Airway's rejuvenation will mean more county revenue from sales and real estate taxes.
``But the most important benefit is that people living in the Carrsville area are going to have easy access to shopping and employment opportunities without having to leave their community,'' Harris said.
In addition to Airway, Bach owns two other shopping centers, both in Georgia. He owned as many as 52 in the southeastern United States at one time, the semiretired real estate developer said.
He works in partnership with Home Beneficial, which sold Airway to Bach. The company often calls him in when it has a struggling shopping center, Bach said.
``I manage it for a while. And then, if I like it, I buy it.''
Bach said he had never heard of Franklin until Home Beneficial contacted him about Airway, and he said he bought the shopping center because of its proximity to Union Camp and the strong community atmosphere in the city.
``Airway is a good shopping center, and the town has a good, solid economic base,'' Bach said. ``Coming to Franklin is like stepping back in time 15 or 20 years, when people did business on a handshake.'' ILLUSTRATION: Staff photo by MICHAEL KESTNER
Rob Stanton, a representative for Franklin Associates, looks over
the company's Airway Shopping Plaza.