Sons of former La Vogue owner look to revive Grace St. stretch

501-521 E Grace St

A business entity tied to the Bernstein family is pushing new commercial uses to fill 501-521 E. Grace St. (J. Elias O’Neal)

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.”

501-521 E Grace St

A business entity tied to the Bernstein family is pushing new commercial uses to fill 501-521 E. Grace St. (J. Elias O’Neal)

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.”

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John Lindner
John Lindner
5 years ago

Woohoo! Congrats to Jason and Marc for their determination to put this property back to use. It’s a great block in a fantastic neighborhood. I can’t wait to see what tenants they lure to the area.

Eric Lee
Eric Lee
5 years ago

What they should do is sell to a developer who will build a new mixed-use (residential/office) high rise there with retail on the bottom floor. The current buildings there are probably unusable anyway and the density gained from the mixed-use structure would be a welcome addition to help fuel riders for the BRT that will be a block away. I don’t know…maybe my suggestion makes too much sense.

Michael Dodson
Michael Dodson
5 years ago

They might want to try cleaning it up. The family has done nothing but let the building’s deteriorate for last 10 plus years since Lane Byrant closed up shop. Look at the ariel shot in the article of the flat roof! Look inside the front windows; would you even think to rent that space? The space look as appealing as all the vacant retail along Broad that is owned by Jemal. I don’t agree with Eric about a high rise (cause plenty of vacant lots on Grace to use for that option) but the transfer to a developer might be… Read more »

Patti Wright
Patti Wright
5 years ago

This is my neighborhood…I live and work across the street. As a homeowner, I am looking for practical retail to enhance our community. Downtown workers, VCU/MCV students, tourist (20 hotels in a mile radius) and an ever increasing residential population (all of which have the “parking problem” solved) as well as visitors to the Convention Center, entertainment venues and river are anxious to support a walkable shopping district that includes something other than boutique shops. We’re excited to see increased interest in our development as a shopping destination.