Carrying on what their late father started decades ago, two local brothers have laid claim to a swath of downtown buildings that have sat largely dormant as much of the surrounding blocks have begun to sprout new life.
Jason and Marc Bernstein recently gained control of the six buildings at 501-521 E. Grace St. and are making a push to fill the properties’ combined 51,000 square feet of commercial space, making it one of the largest available inventories for retail or office tenants along that stretch.
“We have it for lease now,” said Jason Bernstein, adding that the properties will not be sold. “It’s exciting. We just want to get some new tenants in the space to add to what’s occurring there.”
Through 501-521 E Grace Street LLC, the brothers took over the properties through an internal family transfer valued at $1.5 million, according to city records. The properties have been in the Bernstein family for more than 60 years.
All the buildings are vacant, with the exception of 501 E. Grace St., which houses the Secret Sandwich Society restaurant.
CBRE | Richmond brokers Barry Hofheimer and Scott Boyers were retained to lease the property. Hofheimer said the group has not secured any leases for the buildings, but interest is high.
“They are a very conservative family … and they want to find the best tenant for the spaces that are available,” he said.
Hofheimer said the spaces lend themselves to restaurants and retail tenants on the ground level, and office users on the second level.
Historically, retail space had done well on East Grace Street, and the Bernstein family had a hand in that success.
The family founded the former La Vouge women’s clothing boutique store in one of the buildings that’s now available. Its flagship downtown location included an alteration shop, hair parlor and offices on the second floor.
Other nearby retailers included Berry-Burk, Montaldo’s and Ardley, according to historic records, making it one of metro Richmond’s shopping destinations.
But as retailers began leaving the city in favor of strip centers and enclosed shopping malls in the suburbs, many of the city’s famed boutiques moved or shuttered operations altogether.
Shortly after the Bernsteins sold La Vogue, the new owner closed the downtown Richmond location in the mid-1980s, leaving much of the block vacant once other retailers left.
The Bernstein family sat on the properties for decades, Jason said, not budging to the impulse to sell assets downtown like others were doing at the time. That decision may be coming full circle, as a new wave of reinvestment sweeps over the corridor.
Finishing touches on the Jewell Building, owned by NFL great Darrell Green, are nearing an end at 316. E. Grace St.
A local investment banker purchased the long-idle former Honey Shop building at 405 E. Grace St. in September.
In addition to Secret Sandwich Society, food and drink establishments Monchou, Wong Gonzales, Champion Brewing Co., Julep’s, Maya’s, Pasture, Rappahannock Oyster Co. and Pop’s Market have arrived in recent years.
The block also has been a hotbed for converting structures into mixed-use, including the ongoing renovation of 300 E. Grace St. into apartments, offices and a studio and tea bar for a yoga center.
“The difference between now and then is night and day,” Hofheimer said. “Four years ago, you go show a building down there, there would be people standing around that were not going to consume what was going to go in there.”