The Corner has experienced multiple business turnovers in the past few years, including the closures of Sheetz and Sammy’s as well as the recent Cohn’s buyout by 7Day. Students have shared mixed emotions about the change in makeup of the Corner — some excitement for new openings and some disappointment following the closure of longstanding staples.
A January vacancy report by the Charlottesville Office of Economic Development — which included the Corner — found that vacancies across the city’s six main shopping centers have slightly decreased over a year-long period of observation. The report compares vacancy numbers from July 2022 to January 2023 and is meant to provide data on the economic health of the city. The OED does, however, expect an increase in retail vacancies from rising cost of rent.
While the report found a decrease in vacancies, there is a history of locally-owned and staple businesses disappearing from the Corner. Coupe’s suffered a kitchen fire September 2022 and still has not reopened, despite plans to do so by this past summer. Other businesses that have closed in the past few years include the College Inn, Armando’s and Littlejohn’s.
Second-year College student Chloe Renken described how she missed some of Cohn’s — another long-standing convenience store staple — unique features and other subtle but important changes she’s seen under the new management.
“I used to get Diet Cokes at Cohn's all the time from their famous soda machine before all my exams,” Renken said. “The machine was incredible and it tasted like magic, but now I can't do that because it's replaced by a vape display.”
Cohn’s is not the first business on the Corner to have been replaced by stores selling vape and tobacco products. Carytown Tobacco, a chain with more than 10 locations in the region, replaced Juice Laundry in August 2022. The replacement was met with some discontent from students who were concerned about the replacement of a smoothie restaurant with a vape store.
Second-year College student Chloe Cooper said she does not think that Cohn’s recent management change will drastically alter the Corner business scene. Still, she said she thinks that the expansion of 7Day to overtake a longtime Corner fixture is disappointing.
“I think it's kind of sad that 7Day is… not monopolizing, but spreading from where they are,” Cooper said. “I don't think it's gonna really impact anything business-wise, because it's still a [similar] version of a grocery store with goods that people are going to want.”
The space that was once occupied by Sammy’s, a cheesesteak restaurant that lasted just under a year on the Corner, has not yet been filled by another business. There is no estimated date as to when the empty space will be filled, though the OED report does not designate the space as “vacant” because it will “soon be occupied by unannounced tenant(s).”
The same designation is given to the old Sheetz location, where construction has recently begun for a new Raising Cane’s Chicken location. The other Charlottesville Cane’s location, on Emmet Street, has drawn long lines into the road that create traffic jams.
The second Cane’s location marks the arrival of another popular chain to the Corner after Chipotle opened its doors last year. Second-year College student Annabelle Hartch felt that Cane’s will become a busy establishment popular with students.
“I think it'll help the atmosphere [on the Corner] because I personally love Cane's, and I know a lot of other students do as well,” Hartch said. “The lines might be pretty long, especially on game days, so I think it'll be important for them to have efficient business and cooking strategies to keep up with what I think will be high demand.”
Business vacancies and inconsistencies affect some students' perceptions of the environment on and around the Corner, including Renken. Renken said the construction involved in the changes makes the corner feel “very industrial” and less like a classic “college town.”
Although some parts of the Corner remain in flux, the overall strip maintains a relatively low vacancy rate, despite turnovers. Students offered varying opinions on what they would like to see take these vacant spots — including Chick-fil-A and more sit-down restaurants. Whichever business comes in next, Renken said that having the spaces occupied would generally benefit the Corner.
“Whatever it is, a business that goes there will prosper if it's a business that students enjoy as well,” Renken said. “And so I think it's great that they're being filled at all.”