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As customers mob Southern Season sales, talk moves to future tenant

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Southern Season was signed on as the initial anchor of the Libbie Mill development.

HENRICO, Va. – Brian Glass was one of the last few to grab a made to order sandwich at Southern Season, and he gave it a rave review.

“THIS guy was a sandwich artist,” Glass said of the deli architect; a sentence among a string of adjectives praising the food he and a colleague shared last Friday.

That was just three days before the gourmet retailer announced by April 24 they would be gone from their 53,000-plus-square-foot shop at the Libbie Mill-Midtown complex.

It was an abrupt departure for specialty foods shop, an anchor tenant at the award-winning, mixed-use project currently taking shape on 79.5 acres along Staples Mill Road, not far from the city/county line.

The closure comes not even two years after the Southern Season grand opening on July 31, 2014 — and as the Henrico-based  Gumenick Properties are poised to begin construction on 327 apartments and 40,000 square feet of retail space.

The retailer announced their regret that they had “slower-than-expected-growth in the store.” They also said that the store was bigger than it needed to be and will move forward with a “smaller footprint” in other markets.

For perspective, the Short Pump Kroger that opened in 2010 is almost twice as big, at 91,000-square-feet.

But the soon to be vacant stately brick building, with an entrance that Glass called “beautiful,” boasts a patio and a kitchen in addition to the retail area.

“It is a nicely built space,” said Glass, who aside from appreciating tasty sandwiches, is the Senior Vice President of Collier’s International. “You can take a second generation building and convert it.”

“There is potential for a grocery store, supermarket, no doubt about it – and as we know there are plenty of players in the market,” he said.

Glass believes that the concept for that location just wasn’t a good mix, and he noted his surprise that the company opened ahead of the other development.

“Retailers usually don’t lead, they follow,” he said.

For years, residents have asked for another Trader Joe’s location, even hopeful for one in the five-acre GRTC bus barn that will soon become a mixed-use development. Whole Foods has committed to a second location inside the city near the intersection of West Broad Street and Hermitage Road.

Glass noted that four Trader Joe’s spots could fit inside the current Southern Season space.

“Not to say it’s impossible, it could be subdivided,” he said.

As for the future of the Libbie Mill-Midtown Development, Glass said, “I think it will rebound and be fine.”

Edward Crews, the communication’s officer for Gumenick Properties, said the next step is for the attorneys of both companies to resolve the current issue.

And while the developers expressed in a news release their disappointment “that Southern Season was not successful in a superb business location,” they didn’t seem too concerned.

“Given our seven decades of owning and operating property as well as home building experience in Henrico, we remain strongly optimistic about Libbie Mill-Midtown’s future. Our position is based upon several recent and upcoming events. For example, Rutherfoord, a Marsh & McLennan agency LLC company, will open its office here in mid-May. Award-winning chef Walter Bundy soon will open his new restaurant, Shagbark. We are selling homes and have contracts in hand. The library is welcoming thousands of patrons daily. And, the lake area has become a community focal point.”

Crews said that no ideas have been discussed yet for prospective tenants and there is no way to estimate who will take on the next lease.