LaDiff has found its next home.
Sarah Paxton and Andy Thornton, owners of the longtime local furniture retailer, said Wednesday they have purchased a 5-acre plot at 1011 Commerce Road on the city’s Southside, where they’ll set up the company’s new showroom and warehouse operations.
The move is prompted by the recent sale and planned redevelopment of LaDiff’s longtime retail and storage complex, the Watkins-Cottrell building in Shockoe Slip. Paxton, Thornton and an investor sold the property at 117-125 S. 14th St. to local developer SNP Properties for $10.5 million in August.
In this latest deal, Paxton and Thornton said they paid $3.7 million for the Southside property at the corner of Commerce Road and Gordon Avenue. The site is vacant and was formerly occupied by State Electric Supply Co. Thornton said they think the area is right in the path of progress for the city.
“We looked at it from several standpoints,” Thornton said. “One was that acquiring five acres a mile and half from downtown was huge. It has a lot of greenspace, and the view of the city was probably the best you could get.”
Added Paxton: “It still felt downtown to us, and it still allowed us to have our warehousing on-site. We’ve kind of been spoiled by that because it lets us assist our customers and have all our staff in one location, and this place has oodles of parking.”
The new showroom and storage space will total about 22,000 square feet, marking a significant downsizing from the 112,000 square feet it occupies in Shockoe Slip. Paxton said they welcome the smaller footprint.
“It’s kind of been something we’ve wanted to do for the last five or six years,” Paxton said. “But owning the size of the building we did, it just wasn’t possible.”
Behind the main building on the Southside plot is a roughly 7,600-square-foot warehouse which Paxton and Thornton said could eventually become some sort of hospitality venue.
“We have multiple thoughts on it. One is an event space and another is a restaurant or wine bar that we would not operate,” Thornton said.
“Let’s just say we have a lot of ideas,” Paxton added.
The remainder of the acreage could be used for events and artists’ festivals in the near-term, and possible residential development in the future.
“It would not be high-density. This is all very kind of initial scheming, but we’re looking at the idea of 10 to 15 townhomes,” Thornton said. “We’re looking at the whole concept for the five acres as something like a LaDiff village.”
The land, which would have to be rezoned to make way for any residential development, was most recently assessed by the city at $2.3 million.
One South Commercial’s Tom Rosman and Lory Markham represented LaDiff in the deal. Thornton and Paxton said Burt Pinnock of Baskervill is their architect for the renovations and J.A. Heisler is the general contractor. Fulton Bank is their lender.
Thornton said they expect to spend an additional $1.5 million to $2 million on the renovations, which they hope to kick off soon, ahead of a planned move in spring 2022.
Until then, LaDiff is trying to sell over 10,000 items out of its Shockoe location to get ready for the move. SNP, meanwhile, is planning to renovate the Watkins-Cottrell building into a mixed-use project.
A married couple, Paxton and Thornton founded LaDiff in Charlottesville in 1980 and moved the business to Richmond about a decade later. They said they’ve always tried to find burgeoning neighborhoods for their business in Richmond.
“When we first moved to Tobacco Row, nobody was living in that area, and when we moved to where we are now (Shockoe Slip) no one had even heard of the Canal Walk. It hadn’t been opened,” Paxton said. “We’re always trying to go to where we think the next frontier is.”