Over the past decade, downtown Leesburg merchants and property owners have had to weather a few storms. From the economic recession, to a slew of construction projects that tore up their sidewalks, to the rise of competing mixed-use centers like Village at Leesburg and One Loudoun that fought for their customers, it hasn’t been easy.
But, it appears the tide may be turning in favor of the downtown, with a slew of new restaurants, breweries, retail shops and in-demand residential projects that could again make the heart of Leesburg Loudouners’ go-to hangout spot.
Rick Allison’s King Street Oyster Bar, the tequila bar planned by Paul Reimers and Jason Lage on Market Street, and the recent debut of B Doughnut on Loudoun Street are but a few of the recent good news stories to come out of downtown Leesburg. And just last week news spread that world-renowned beer restaurant Delirium Café had chosen the county seat for its U.S. location. It will join a booming craft brew industry downtown with Black Walnut Brewery, Loudoun Brewing Company, and Crooked Run Brewing up and running and Black Hoof Brewery and Victory Brewing Company in the works.
“I sense a vibe that some really great things are happening in downtown,” said Clagett “Skeeter” Moxley, a retired Leesburg police officer who helps manage his family’s properties downtown. One of his properties is now home to B Doughnut, which has become an instant local favorite. “The more foot traffic you have, it’s only going to create an enhancement for everybody down there.”
Longtime merchant Mike Carroll, who opened his Leesburg Vintner wine shop at the corner of King and Loudoun streets almost 30 years ago, is one of the downtown mainstays who has weathered many a storm and survived. He considers news of a franchise of world-renowned beer restaurant Delirium Café’s opening just across Loudoun Street from the Vintner a game changer for all of downtown.
“This is the best news I’ve heard in so, so long,” he said. He plans to extend his store hours to catch customers in the evening.
“I think this place is going to be a big, big shot in the arm for everyone in our neck of the woods,” Carroll said, referring to those who run shops near his corner of downtown.
Longtime restaurateur Fabian Saiedi, who owns three restaurants along King Street, in addition to the Leesburg Colonial Inn, also believes that many of the restaurants coming to downtown are sparking a new life in the historic area. And it’s a misnomer to think that the arrival of more restaurants will be to the detriment of others.
“It’s about complementing, not competing,” Saiedi said.
After owning downtown properties for almost half a century, Saiedi said he has always been in favor of attracting more restaurant operators to the downtown.
“The more restaurants you have, the more people come to town,” he said. “If you want to go out [to eat] you don’t want to go someplace where there’s only one or two restaurants.”
Michael O’Connor, who runs Palio and Leesburg Diner and owns several other downtown buildings, said there is a “broad-based interest in businesses coming into downtown Leesburg.” He is currently in talks with several different types of businesses interested in coming downtown and cashing in on the surge of energy.
“We’re in discussions with a number of smaller companies,” O’Connor said, including an ice cream parlor and a popcorn company.
O’Connor, who has been involved with downtown Leesburg for more than 25 years, said this is one of the most exciting times for the heart of the town.
“I think for the new people coming into Leesburg, they’re seeing what a vibrant, historic town can be. I think for those of us that have been involved for many years it’s like seeing the fruits of your efforts come to fruition,” he said. “None of this happens by chance. As Leesburg is successful it’s a result of long hours of hard work by many people of all walks of life.”
Longtime downtown landlord Don Devine has landed several big fish recently, with Delirium’s lease agreement finalized last week and the upcoming arrival of a new crab shack by former Döner Bistro and MacDowell Brew Kitchen manager Nils Schnibbe in the old Cajun Experience building.
“Everyone wants the spaces we have before they become available,” Devine said. “I’m more excited about Leesburg than I have been in 10 years.”
And one of those who has worked behind the scenes to help businesses set up in the downtown, as well as greater Leesburg, is Economic Development Director Marantha Edwards.
“It’s downtown’s time,” she said. “So many people for years have talked about what potential there was downtown and now it’s being realized. There’s Mike McLister looking at residential [converting the former Eiffel Tower restaurant to apartments], Don Knutson looking at residential [on South King Street], and Don Devine getting great, cool restaurants there. Downtown has such potential and now people are realizing it.”
Curtis Allred, who has worked as general manager at Fire Works Pizza and Shoes Cup & Cork, is opening Delirium in the former Crème de la Crème building. He remembers a meeting of downtown business leaders about 18 months ago that left many frustrated. They could not come up with a cohesive solution to attract more foot traffic. Allred said, unlike developments like One Loudoun and Reston Town Center, downtown Leesburg does not have one owner and operator implementing a single cohesive plan, so it’s up to the many individual stakeholders to make necessary changes to draw a crowd.
And that is what they’ve begun to do, Allred said. He pointed to 27 South Interiors, B Doughnut and the Oyster Bar—all three of which opened in 2016 and have been instant hits.
“If we put content here that people wish to consume, people will come to downtown. But we can’t rely on the town,” he said. “I think the take away is the onus is going to be on us, the business leaders, to do it.”
But the excitement isn’t just for the new retail and restaurants coming into, or thriving within, the town’s center. Residential development both in, and on the outskirts of, the downtown has helped to create some of that long-sought-after foot traffic. The rise and popularity of the Crescent Place development off Harrison Street, with a strong resident base of young professionals as well as older individuals craving a walkable community close to amenities, has been another recent boon to the downtown. And Don Knutson, who is a homebuilder with Crescent Place, is hoping to only add to that foot traffic with his own 64-unit residential project near the existing Battery Warehouse on South King Street that was recently approved by the Town Council.
“To the extent that there are more communities that are truly walkable, more and more dollars will be spent in downtown Leesburg,” Knutson said.
He said he also believes that “growth is organic” and investment will spur further investment by others.
“If things are actually happening more things happen. I think that’s the nature of infill development,” Knutson said. “Activity breeds activity.”
And if the saying rings true, downtown Leesburg can expect even more activity and excitement, particularly when the warmer months return. O’Connor said there is enthusiasm by many downtown stakeholders to hold more events, and make First Friday festivities occur every Friday.
Carroll also believes that the downtown, which for a time was maligned by those who rued the fact that so many shops closed at 5 p.m. on weekdays, is shifting to meet the needs of a changing demographic. And expanded evenings hours, like he plans to do at the Vintner, could become even more prevalent for other shops, especially as more restaurants pop up.
Danielle Nadler contributed to this story.