25-year investment on W. Broad soon to test the market

Renovations on the Metro Sound & Music Co. storefront at 117-119 W. Broad St. and upper-story apartments are nearly complete. (J. Elias O'Neal)

Renovations on the Metro Sound & Music Co. storefront at 117-119 W. Broad St. and upper-story apartments are nearly complete. (J. Elias O’Neal)

A longtime downtown shop owner is marking his store’s 25th anniversary with a $3.5 million blow-out.

Mark Szafranski, owner and operator of Metro Sound & Music Co. at 117-119 W. Broad St., is preparing to reopen his renovated 2,900-square-foot storefront and a swath of 28 newly constructed apartments on the three floors above, after gutting much of the building over the last year.

The project, which totals around $3.5 million, has been more than 25 years in the making, beginning with Szafranski’s gamble to purchase the properties in 1993. He paid a combined $120,000 for the buildings at the time, according to city records.

“Downtown was a much different place back then,” he said. “Not too many people wanted to be down here … but the property was cheap, and you could tell, eventually, it was going to come back.”

Szafranski, a VCU alum, opened Metro Sound in 1991 next to the Virginia Repertory Theatre, in retail space across the street from its current location. The shop specializes in selling vintage musical instruments and equipment. It also serves as a repair shop, and houses a recording studio and band rehearsal space.

He opted to move his business two years later, when the opportunity arose to purchase a set of four-story buildings next door.

“I could buy a house out near Willow Lawn or nearly 40,000 square feet of buildings falling apart in downtown Richmond,” Szafranski said. “I decided on the buildings … People, my father in particular, thought I had lost my mind.”

Szafranski said the plan was to grow his business downtown, and when the timing was right, convert the upper-level commercial space into apartments.

Szafranski in the now-renovated upstairs unit that he occupied after buying the property in 1993. (J. Elias O'Neal)

Szafranski in the now-renovated upstairs unit that he occupied after buying the property in 1993. (J. Elias O’Neal)

To save money over the years, Szafranski lived in one of the upstairs units, which had no heat or hot water for a long time.

“It was just me,” he laughed, standing in the unit he once called home that has since been renovated. “I had a mattress, a few changes of clothes, food … that was all I needed back then.”

Richmond-based Monument Cos. is wrapping up work on the one- and two-bedroom apartments, which Szafranski said should be complete by the end of May.

Many of the units range from 600 to 700 square feet, equipped with stainless steel appliances, refurbished hardwood floors, granite countertops, a washer and dryer in each unit, and Broad Street views of the city’s up-and-coming arts district.

“To see what this is area has become versus what it was 25 years ago is amazing,” Szafranski said. “It’s a testament to what is happening throughout the city, and certainly gave me the confidence to say, ‘I need to build these apartments now.’”

Financing for the apartment construction, along with the remodeling of Metro Sound and two additional commercial units on West Broad Street, was provided by Essex Bank.

The units will be market rate for the downtown area, which can range from $800 to $1,300 per month, depending on size.

Szafranski’s focus has helped Metro Sound’s name grow beyond its West Broad Street location, with national acts such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Eagles and The Allman Brothers Band paying a visit for both business and pleasure.

“Building solid relationships with customers is key,” he said. “Knowing people’s names goes a long way. It’s old school, but it’s worked for us here.”

With the apartment construction nearing an end, Szafranski said the next phase of upgrades will add amenities to Metro Sound, including personal sound booths, expanded storage and more office space.

Metro Sound’s apartments join a wave of new residential units coming online in the downtown area.

A couple blocks east, Washington, D.C.-based Douglas Development continues to lease up the Deco at CNB building in the former Central National Bank tower at 219 E. Broad St.

Eric Phipps’ EGP Properties LLC is under contract to purchase a nearly 1-acre parcel at 2 E. Marshall St., where it will build a five-story, 167-unit apartment complex.

Eggleston Plaza, a three-story mixed-used development near the intersection of Leigh and Second streets, is wrapping up. Plans call for the ground level to host Croaker’s Spot restaurant, with 31 apartments on the two upper levels.

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2 Comments on "25-year investment on W. Broad soon to test the market"

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Bruce Milam

Szafranski appears to have pulled off what every property owner believes he can do himself–build apartments on his own property–and he deserves the accolades. The Broad Street Renaissance continues!

ron virgin

A true urban pioneer.