The Virginia Economic Development Partnership and the state Department of Environmental Quality released news Wednesday of a $44,398 Brownfield Restoration and Economic Redevelopment Assistance Fund grant to help Big Stone Gap and its Redevelopment and Housing Authority continue renovation of the old Mutual Pharmacy building on Wood Avenue.
According to Redevelopment and Housing Authority Executive Director Susan Cradic, the grant marks the latest piece in a $1.16 million funding package to turn the former pharmacy and cafeteria into a restaurant space and short-term lodging to attract visitors to the town.
The Mutual, as locals in Big Stone Gap and surrounding communities still call it, closed in 2013 after six decades of operation. The film “Big Stone Gap” made the Mutual a bit of pop culture a few years ago, but it still sat empty until the authority and town developed a two-stage plan to bring the building back as an active piece of the downtown area.
After the authority bought the Mutual in 2015, the plan attracted a variety of state and regional grants from the Appalachian Regional Commission, Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority, Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development and a prior Brownfields Restoration grant.
Cradic said the funding agencies along with the LENOWISCO Planning District Commission all helped bring the town’s vision into a tangible asset.
With all the agency acronyms and different funding sources, Wayne and Tracey Jordan are about to turn the Mutual into their own dream — owning a casual restaurant and bar with a chain restaurant feel that will give local residents and visitors alike something to enjoy in Big Stone Gap.
“We want to do something fun, something cool, something that people don’t have to drive 30 miles to find somewhere else,” Wayne said. With two decades of experience in the restaurant business, he said he has dreamed since childhood of owning and running his own restaurant.
“It’s his dream, but we’re on board with it,” Tracey added.
Wayne Jordan said the Redevelopment and Housing Authority will own the Mutual building while the restaurant will be a tenant. Even so, he said he has been able to work with contractors on the project to tailor the renovations to provide a 160-170-seat space.
“The town is supposed to complete phase one of the work in May, and we’re aiming to open by the end of July or first of August,” Wayne said. “The menus are done, the logo’s done, and we’ve bought the kitchen equipment.”
Wayne also credited Mountain Empire Community College’s Small Business Development Center and director Tim Blankenbecler with helping him develop a business plan that got the housing authority’s approval for tenancy.
“Tim has been amazing to work with,” Wayne said. “Even when he couldn’t help me, he was always there with great advice.”
Even with the death of their son Tyler in October, the Jordans still have focused on their dream of the restaurant.
“(Tracey) operates a day care center, and she’s been a huge backer of this,” Wayne said. “Our daughters support this too.”
“It’s not going to be a country store or a sports bar,” Wayne said. “It’s going to be a destination.”