Entrepreneurs' projects would increase downtown dining options

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Michelle Williams discusses her plans to renovate the former Pure Oil station downtown for use as either a light restaurant or as retail space during the Elizabeth City Area Committee of 100’s luncheon at Montero’s Restaurant, Wednesday.

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By William F. West
Staff Writer

Sunday, October 7, 2018

A pizzeria and ice cream parlor are among the new dining options three entrepreneurs are proposing to bring to downtown Elizabeth City.

Laurie Edwards, Michelle Williams and Janne Mills each talked a little about themselves and provided an update on their separate downtown projects at last week’s quarterly meeting of the Elizabeth City Area Committee of 100.  

Edwards and her husband, Will Raucci, own the Virginia Dare Arcade on Main Street, and are busily working to open a combination pizzeria-ice cream parlor in the building by the end of this month.

Williams, who acquired the former Pure Oil building and the two-story former Cupcakery building next door, plans to upgrade both Water Street structures, envisioning either a light restaurant or retail space in the former and a downstairs retailer and upstairs apartment in the latter.

Mills and her family are working with their landlords in the former Thumpers Downtown Bar and Grille to open a bistro at the corner of Poindexter Street and Colonial Avenue sometime this fall. 

Edwards, who lives in Edenton but is originally from New York City, told Committee of 100 members she and her husband moved to Chowan County because they wanted to live in a quiet place where they could focus on developing candy, films, games and toys for children. Edwards previously operated her own advertising agency while Raucci, a Philadelphia native, works in the children's entertainment products business.

Edwards and Raucci decided to invest in Elizabeth City’s downtown after falling in love with the Virginia Dare Arcade. After purchasing the property last year, they began working to upgrade the building’s plumbing and electrical infrastructure.

Edwards said she and Raucci knew they wanted to put in a pizzeria and ice cream parlor at some point — they just didn’t know it would be so soon. Not long after they bought the arcade, its signature tenant, Sidney's Café and Bistro, closed.

Edwards said she and Raucci have since gutted the former Sidney's space and acquired a giant pizza oven for their pizzeria. 

"We want something to bring the kids back," Edwards said, explaining their decision-making for the former Sidney’s space.

Raucci, who also was on hand for the Committee of 100 meeting, said renovating the entire arcade will be “a longer-term proposition.”  

He said the project’s first phase will include reinstallation of the building’s front lanterns and installation of all-new front doors, more architectural lighting and new signage for tenants.

"Our goal is to kind of match what AoA did because we see ourselves as, like, two linchpins on Main Street, " Raucci said, referring to Arts of the Albemarle’s relocation to the former Lowry-Chesson building years ago.

Edwards said she and Raucci believe Elizabeth City’s downtown is on the cusp of significant growth. 

"And we're right in the middle of a renaissance that's going to happen," she said.

Williams, who lives in northern Virginia, has been redeveloping residential and commercial properties for the past seven years. She formerly worked in information technology, intelligence, management and telecommunications. 

Williams said her roots brought her to Elizabeth City: her great-grandmother was from here. She said after renovating a house on Raleigh Street, she got interested in the former Pure Oil station, which was built in 1935 at the corner of Main and Water streets.

Williams said the former service station needs both interior and exterior improvements before it can be rented to tenants.

"So, that's the mission that I am embarking on," she said as she showed Committee of 100 members images of her plans.

Williams said the former Cupcakery building was built in 1885 and once hosted a grocery store. Her plans are to transform the structure’s nondescript facade to look like it did when it hosted the grocery. 

"Hopefully, it'll look like a really nice property fitting in with your concept and your plan of historic downtown," she told Committee of 100 members.

Unlike Edwards and Williams, Mills is an Elizabeth City native. A licensed nurse, Mills has worked for 34 years as an administrator for Heritage Care assisted living.

Mills said about a year and a half ago, when her son — a trained chef — and his wife moved to Elizabeth City, he expressed an interest in opening his own restaurant. After looking all over Elizabeth City, the Millses decided part of the vacant Thumpers building would be a great location for a bistro.

Mills said her son believes "downtown is rocking," thanks in part to the rejuvenated Pailin’s Alley which is nearby.

Mills said her family’s bistro will be in the space’s original design and include old-time pictures of Elizabeth City and the surrounding community.

"You're going to see that we've done a pretty good job," she told Committee of 100 members.

Mills estimates the bistro will be open sometime this fall.