While the pandemic stifled economic growth across the country, Roanoke saw an increase in development in 2020.
The heart of downtown is now home to two historic buildings with a host of new tenants. Waterfield Enterprises transformed a building – that formerly housed a hardware store, grocery store, antique shop and a butcher – into an indoor mall on the 100 block of Main Street, and another developer turned a large building at 212 N. Main St. into multiple retail spaces, allowing a handful of new businesses to move into town.
“It’s changed so much. It’s grown so much,” Saving Grace Vintage owner Pam Kessie said. “There are so many more stops on your trip to Roanoke now… A lot of people come to just have a day away. Roanoke is a very popular place for family outings, a girls day out. Now the guys can go to the Copper Still, and the ladies can go to the tea room at Parker Grace. There aren’t many little towns like this where you have so many great options to eat and shop.”
The Copper Still, Saving Grace, Spoonful of Sugar, Absolute Knead, 7 CBD Store, Parker Grace, Ella Chic, The Upstairs and Indiana Skincare are just some of the new additions since last year.
Kessie, who is also a member of the Roanoke Chamber of Commerce, said her company decided to relocate to Roanoke because they noticed how a lot of people were committed to making Roanoke not just a small town – but a destination.
“It feels great to see all the development and collaboration. If people come to visit mainstays like Joseph Decuis, Moose and Mollie's, The Paper Moon or the barn sales – we all work really closely together to promote each other… We’ve really embraced the small-town feel, working together to make this a destination.”
Joseph Decuis owner Alice Eshelman said she thinks the town would be succeeding better without the pandemic, but the long-time business owner said they have been creative to persevere through the economic woes in order to follow through with the town’s plans to grow.
“There’s a new synergy with new people opening shops and others re-opening and growing,” Eshelman said. “It brings people to town. I think everyone has been very cautious and worked very hard to be safe, and we are still making progress.”
Copper Still co-owner Debra Doctor said while it’s been difficult to open a new business right before the novel coronavirus began causing issues in the community, she’s happy to be in Roanoke.
“We feel like the groundwork that has been laid here by the Eshelmans and other interested parties here in Roanoke. It has really set up this little community for continued growth,” Doctor said. “Many customers come in and say they didn’t know this cute little town existed. It just draws people in – to check out the shops, check out the little restaurants.”
Absolute Knead lead esthetician Shannon Schoeff grew up in Markle and says it’s nice to see so many local businesses in such close proximity.
“I feel like you always had to go to Fort Wayne to get stuff done, but now that it’s a little bit closer to home, we get to stay true to the small town feel without having to go all the way to Fort Wayne to get services done,” Schoeff said.
While Absolute Knead held a grand opening in September, the company is continuing to expand its full service spa.
Eshelman said Roanoke is beginning to offer things she never could have imagined.
“You can go and sit at Absolute Knead’s oxygen bar. I mean, how California is that, and this is Roanoke,” she said with a laugh. “It’s so big city here in little Roanoke.”
Many shop owners described going to curbside pickup and online sales to get through the shutdown last spring, but most owners reported a recent uptick in interest from people as far as Indianapolis.
“I think right now people are really enjoying shopping local and visiting small towns,” Kessie said. "The town has been growing like crazy since we moved here.”
Although shutdowns caused Joseph Decuis to shutter its restaurant and lay off a lot of workers, something Eshelman said was the hardest thing for her, she said it’s exciting to look around at her new neighbors and think about the future of Roanoke.
“I think in Roanoke we’ve all struggled, but we’ve persevered and held strong. I think we are stronger for it. What the government did put major constraints on all of us,” Eshelman said, adding that she knows the restrictions were made with good intentions. “Overall I think we all want to get going and get a good, healthy start to 2021, and we are headed in that direction.”