ROCKINGHAM — One half of an aging property near Harrington Square came down this week, making room for a major downtown renovation.
Brittnie Rector and her husband Josh purchased the two buildings comprising the former Richmond County Bank in early 2021 with eventual plans to open a coffee, wine and cheese shop in downtown Rockingham.
Rector said she has been wanting to open her own business for a while and that her husband has been very supportive.
“We had a desire to do something downtown,” Rector said Monday as demolition on the corner structure began. “We had seen a lot of investment from folks in the community, building their businesses up down here.
“For us, it seemed like a really great opportunity …”
The couple, originally from Richmond County, had lived out of state for several years and had an opportunity to explore areas like old town Alexandria and Georgetown.
“We traveled in a variety of places and got to see towns and what people enjoy and what people appreciate — we also enjoyed them and appreciate them — and we wanted to be able to bring some of our experiences back here,” Rector said. “And so a lot of the vision for this space is born from those experiences.”
The Rectors had been considering the Watson Building across the square. But after getting estimates on restoration costs, Rector says they decided to keep looking.
Rector said they found where the bank property was listed with a bid by Iron Horse Auction Company. However, the individual who had placed the bid did not purchase it.
So, with the help of Scotty Baldwin at Iron Horse, Rector said they were able to secure the property from C.F. Smith Property Group.
Since then, the couple has slowly been working toward their goal of opening a coffee shop and wine bar “with a light fare.”
Plans include inner and courtyard spaces on the ground floor and a residential area upstairs.
“I thought that would be a pretty incredible situation for us,” Rector said, “because it’s just he and I with our little four-legged baby.”
Rector said they’ve received a lot of support from the city, community and local businesses during the restoration process, including Mike Brown of Brown’s Contracting Services, Superior Cranes and Tedder Trash Solutions.
“We have what, to me, is just an incredible opportunity to be a part of this as owners; we also have incredible people surrounding us,” Rector said. “It is not something the two of us could have done by ourselves.”
The process has been slower than anticipated, Rector admits, but says they have a vision of what it will turn into — some of which has been “identified along the way.”
“As we see change, we see what it can become,” Rector said.
Part of that has involved preserving as much of the original structure as possible.
“We did a lot of research leading up to this point with the goal of keeping everything that we could that was in good shape,” she said, adding that there has been a lot of consultation with a variety of experts.
During the restoration, they found two metal plaques reading “Richmond County Bank” that Rector said they will be able to use.
“It’s almost like a treasure hunt when we opened up this building,” she said. “There’s a lot of little things in here.”
They gave a portion of the teller counter to historian and Rockingham Mayor John Hutchinson, and were giving away bricks from the building that was torn down. They have also “tucked away” the metal plaque that was once on the front of the bank.
Rector said it as “a bit fortuitous” that the front of the building has two cursive “B”s on the front, considering they plan to call their shop Bean to Barrel.
The project was brought up during Tuesday evening’s Rockingham City Council meeting.
“It’s a tremendous project that a lot of people have backed off from for many, many years and I think a lot of us were curious to see what they’d be able to pull off,” Hutchinson said. “But as of yesterday, walls started coming down on a building that was probably going to come down on its own, whether we wanted it to or not.
“It’s going to be a big improvement to downtown and we appreciate citizens who step up and do that.”
The downtown area has been slowly reviving over the past decade, including the opening of Discovery Place Kids and Pattan’s Downtown Grille and current efforts to repurpose the former Food King building, as well as other businesses locating along East Washington and nearby streets.
The Rectors currently don’t have a timeline for completion of the project.
“There’s so many baby steps that lead to a final state,” Rector said.
This week’s demolition, she added, is probably the most visible mark for the community.
“What wasn’t visible is all that took place inside,” she said.
Anyone interesting in following their progress can view their Instagram page: oldbankbuilding