Radford University and city officials launch partnership to revive downtown Radford
6:30 on a Monday evening inside Downey Dog Yoga studio, owner Kim Pugh leads a class of 12 people, inside a small room filled with the smells of lemongrass and lavender.
Pugh has owned a yoga studio in Radford for eight years. Last year, she moved her business off a side street, to a historic brick building downtown.
“Moving to Main Street has been one of the best decisions I made for my business,” Pugh said. “People drive by the studio, you can see them kind of slow down. And they look inside.”
Pandemic’s impact on businesses
Pugh remembers a very different scene during the pandemic.
“Driving down Main Street, I mean I just would cry because I could see businesses that were thriving, closing,” Pugh said.
During the pandemic, she lost a lot of money, too. But she stayed open. Just barely.
Now, business is rebounding. And it’s not just the yoga studio. Here on East Main Street, a cupcake store opened last year, as well as a coffee and pastry shop.
City launches revitalization project
This part of downtown is getting a makeover too. The city is investing $2.4 million on a revitalization project.
“We’re looking at some new sidewalks, some new lighting structures,” said Kim Repass, economic development director for the city of Radford.
The city is reimbursing businesses, including Pugh’s, that buy new awnings, or repaint or renovate their storefronts.
A downtown parking lot is also being converted into a small park, with benches and trees. “And perhaps concerts that will be able to be downtown as well as food trucks,” Repass said. “We’re looking for ways that our community can come down and gather and enjoy themselves and grab a bite to eat.”
Repass said they’re also planning to build a walking and biking trail from downtown to Bisset Park.
Radford University announced it’s partnering with the city on a new economic development center on East Main Street.
The University is remodeling an old bank building into offices and conference space, called the HUB, to be used for workshops, trainings, and as an incubator space for up and coming small businesses.
The University will move its Vinod Chachra IMPACT Lab, which offers job training for employees and business owners across the state, to be housed out of the HUB, beginning this summer, said Angela Joyner, Vice President for Economic Development at the University.
“This is kind of the next step, an opportunity for us to connect with our community and the small businesses here,” said Joyner. “It’s bringing the assets from the university together with what the needs of the city is and ideally do that in a centralized space.”
Joyner says the University is going to spend the next few months asking business owners and city officials, what kinds of support they want. They expect to open the HUB this summer.
“It’s early in the process but we’re moving pretty fast,” Joyner said.
Joyner said the HUB could also be a place where students get work experience and internships with entrepreneurs.
Seeing more students downtown would be a welcome sight, said Pugh. “We teach a lot of the administrators, teachers and professors who work for [Radford University], but you rarely see the student population walking around down here,” said Pugh.
She said she’s excited to hear the city and the University are both trying to bring more businesses downtown. “I would love it if there were a few more restaurants and shops where it would be nice for people to come to shop.”
As she guides her yoga class through the poses, she encourages students to keep moving, not to give up. “It’s almost like the hike up to the Cascades [a hike in Giles County]. We know we’re going to get to that waterfall eventually,” Pugh says to the class.
Like a hike up a mountain, growing a business takes time too, steadily keeping pace. Just as it takes time to bring life back to a community.