The Cavalier Daily
Serving the University Community Since 1890

A cornerstone of the community — local businesses make a return to the Corner

As a number of small businesses re-emerge on the Corner, community members commend the hub’s local character.

<p>Shop owners and employees are not the only community members to note how the Corner’s local character has contributed to its close relationship with the University throughout the years. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p>

Shop owners and employees are not the only community members to note how the Corner’s local character has contributed to its close relationship with the University throughout the years.                                 

Keen observers walking along the Corner the past few months may have noticed some particularly nostalgic changes. From Littlejohn’s Deli making its way back to 1427 University Ave to a sign pointing pedestrians towards the newly-opened Chaps Ice Cream, a surge in local businesses has prompted many community members to both reflect on the storied past of the Corner and wonder about its future. 

The Corner has historically served as a hub for University students, as well as Charlottesville community members at large. From restaurants such as The Virginian and The White Spot to shops such as Finch and Heartwood Books, the Corner has offered a wide range of recreational activities to visitors and locals alike. 

However, the takeover of several big businesses, such as fast food restaurant Raising Cane’s which opened last semester, coupled with the loss of local shops, including sandwich shop Sammy’s on the Corner which closed in 2022, caused some worry for community members who expressed concern that the area’s local touch would be lost. 

Rob Jiranek, owner of local guidebook and website Charlottesville Guide, has learned about the history and businesses of the Corner over the past five years during his time overseeing the publication. According to Jiranek, local businesses can struggle to compete for customers with chain restaurants and other big businesses that often have financial advantages. 

“I think it is a bit of a struggle to maintain [the Corner’s] local character,” Jiranek said. “I mean, the fear is that you get more Chipotles and Cane’s chicken — [these are] certainly good services and popular with students, but when they come in, it usually means the loss of a local business. So I think that's the risk [of having big businesses on the Corner], and I think that struggle is ongoing.”

Big businesses, due to increased financial stability and higher staffing levels that allow for longer hours and greater consistency, have grown to be popular among students. When Raising Cane’s opened in September 2023, students lined up outside the restaurant as early as 6 a.m. to be one of the first to eat at the new location. Second-year College student Will Holland was one of those students and said in an interview with The Cavalier Daily that he was excited for the brand’s expansion onto the Corner.

“I think the Corner is a really cool place for this [business], I love Raising Cane’s,” Holland said. 

Other chains like Chipotle consistently attract large numbers of visitors, in part due to the popularity and name recognition of the brand, but also due to competitive prices and hours.

While some students like the presence of large brands and fast-food chains near Grounds, others, such as fourth-year College student Sammy Finnegan, said she hopes the resurgence of small businesses such as Chaps and Littlejohn’s set a precedent that local businesses can flourish on the Corner. As someone who grew up going to Arch’s on the Corner, another ice cream shop, Finnegan said she was thrilled at the return of a local ice cream store after an Auntie Anne’s pretzel store had previously taken over the space.

“It was sad to see a big place take over,” Finnegan said. “I’m excited that a local [store] is getting an extra place to flourish … like other local businesses around here and hopefully continue to encourage the idea of having local businesses stay here.” 

According to Jiranek, one reason small businesses struggle to stay open is due to their more vulnerable financial positions compared to larger competitors. He said big businesses and chains are far more likely to accept lease increases from landlords that local businesses may not be able to afford. 

Despite this struggle, several “mom-and-pop shops” have remained an important part of the Corner. One of these is Ragged Mountain Running and Walking Shop, which has been located on the Corner since its opening in 1982. The shop was originally opened by Mark and Cynthia Lorenzoni after they graduated from Michigan State University, and is now owned and operated by their children, Alec Lorenzoni and Audrey Lorenzoni Sackson. 

According to Lorenzoni Sackson, one thing that provides their smaller shop a competitive advantage is that it has a mutually beneficial relationship with the University like many other Corner businesses — students don’t just shop there, they find job opportunities at stores as well. She estimated that 90 percent of Ragged Mountain employees during the academic year are students.

According to Lorenzoni Sackson, the shop’s close relationship with the community allows for unique interactions and partnerships with locals and University students that bigger businesses may not offer. These may include individual partnerships, promotions and a wide range of other collaborations with local and student athletes.

“When the student groups go looking for prizes, giveaways and sponsorships, they don't go to the big box stores,” Lorenzoni Sackson said. “They come to the tiny stores, mom-and-pop shops like us. It just goes back to the history of it all … having brick and mortar stores like us, Mincers, Heartwood, Finch and all those great businesses is just nice.”

Littlejohn’s employee Darryl Rojas worked at the deli on-and-off from 1996 to 2010, and returned to the restaurant again after it was reestablished earlier this year. Rojas said the local aspect of the store has not only created a community atmosphere, but has also created a one-of-a-kind dining experience that bigger chain restaurants often do not.

“The sandwiches are nowhere else in the world,” Rojas said. “You get to have a unique taste, first of all, and then being a student at U.Va., it almost becomes a tradition … Littlejohn’s was a go-to spot.” 

According to Rojas, Littlejohn’s contribution in bringing a local element back to the Corner has allowed a welcoming, familiar atmosphere that allows for more personal customer connections and dining experiences. 

“I usually come and check in on [customers] and ask them ‘how did you enjoy it,’” Rojas said. “I get a lot of what I call ‘happy chewing faces.’”

According to Jiranek, shifts towards larger businesses are particularly concerning. Jiranek said business turnovers in favor of larger chains often result in a weaker connection between the shops and their customers.

“There are plenty of people that can name … the personnel in these [local] restaurants,” Jiranek said. “I mean, who can name the person at Chipotle or Cane’s? It's not the same. These franchises are, I think, a risk to the Corner because they're less personable by definition, by business model.” 

Despite the financial stability that gives an advantage to bigger businesses, Jiranek said local shops and restaurants’ abilities to maintain closer relationships to the University community helps them better understand the unique proposition of operating a business on the Corner. 

“There's just a local personality and a proximity to the Charlottesville community, to the Charlottesville culture that is well understood,” Jiranek said.


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