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Local couple working to restore Gage's Townhouse

October 27th, 2011 2:31 pm by Staff Report

Bob and Diana Etherton recently took on yet another restoration project when they purchased Gage’s Townhouse, a landmark Nickelsville, Va., restaurant.

While the Ethertons are entrepreneurs, their goal is not to be restaurateurs but, instead, to rescue and rehab the former restaurant that has been vacant for two years. Their dream is to renovate the building and provide a performance venue for local musicians with the hope of also enticing a second party interested in opening and running a restaurant.

The Ethertons moved from Grand Rapids, Mich., seven years ago and started their first "incubator" project, a laundromat. Bob grew up in Scott County, Va., and often came home for family visits. He moved to Lansing, Mich., to live with his uncle. He worked and attended school in Lansing and later moved to Grand Rapids, where the couple lived for more than 30 years.

After he retired, the Ethertons initially considered Arizona as their retirement destination. "When we looked at Arizona, we decided the 30-hour drive from Michigan was just impossible, and we could live here (Nickelsville) where the hills in Virginia are green instead of rock and desert," Diana said.

Bob had inherited a small piece of property outside of Nickelsville and bought additional land to build a new home and start farming. He purchased his first commercial building in Nickelsville on a "whim." After performing an informal community needs survey, he determined a laundromat was needed. About the same time, equipment for a laundromat became available for sale outside of Grand Rapids. He bought the equipment, had it moved to Nickelsville and opened shop.

He later split the building into two different areas and leased the second part to a hair salon. The owner of the salon later bought the entire building and recently added a restaurant to the complex.

After moving to Nickelsville and buying the laundromat, the Ethertons became reacquainted with the town and its people, in particular Ruth Castle, one of Bob’s childhood neighbors. Mrs. Castle and her daughter, Margaret, lived in a beautiful older two-story house, now known as the Ole Nickelsville Hotel.

"One day Ruth invited us into the house, and I fell in love with the living room," Diana said. Due to financial constraints, the Castles had cordoned off the upstairs and were only living in the three downstairs rooms. "I told Ruth if she ever wanted to sell to call us," she said.

In order for Mrs. Castle to consider selling, certain criteria had to be met. "She needed to move to a house close by because her daughter did not drive. And we could not tear down the house and sell it in pieces because that is what most folks wanted to do with the property," Bob explained.

The Ethertons purchased a small house next door to Mrs. Castle’s church and totally renovated it for Ruth and Margaret. They traded houses and Mrs. Castle’s church family walked up and down the street moving furniture from her old home to her new one. "That’s what they do in Nickelsville…help each other. That’s why we love being here," Diana added.

The Ethertons spent about one year renovating her former residence and turned it into "The Ole Nickelsville Hotel." A few months into the hotel renovation, Bob jokingly asked Mrs. Castle if she wanted to switch back. "With a twinkle in her eye, Ruth said, ‘I was wondering when you would want to do that.’"

The Ole Nickelsville Hotel has been open for two summers now, and the Ethertons have been pleased with the community’s response to the renovation and the number of guests housed there. "Last year was slow, but this year has picked up dramatically," Bob said. In fact, the hotel has stayed booked the entire summer and even hosted some special guests - the film crew for the soon to be released documentary, "Tammy Jo."

The Ethertons investment and interest in Nickelsville has sparked greater community involvement. The town recently received a grant for further community development improvements.

"We find Nickelsville a quaint neighborly farming community. Our goal was to make Nickelsville our home and enhance the quality of life for all the residents.," Bob said. Diana was initially hesitant about moving to Nickelsville, but she has found a new home where she "feels loved and respected."

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