Sara Miller’s search for a retail space for her family farm did not last long when it began in February.

“I had looked at a couple of other places before coming here to the Coca-Cola building,” Miller said. “I looked around and walked outside and called my husband and said this was it.”

Six months later, the Timbercreek Market became the first of several businesses to open in the Coca-Cola building, a 1939 structure on Preston Avenue in Charlottesville that is being renovated by Riverbend Development for a variety of new uses.

“There’s just a lot of energy to this development,” said Shawn Tevendale, owner of Blue Ridge Cyclery, a store that opened a few days after Timbercreek.

“Riverbend really wanted to focus on some of the nice high-end local businesses that help make Charlottesville Charlottesville,” Tevendale said.

Other tenants will include the Kardinal Beer Hall, the Juice Laundry and an innovation lab run by the University of Virginia. Riverbend officials said more tenants will be announced shortly.

But Timbercreek was first, and the Millers said they were excited about the grand opening, held last week, for a store they said would keep them in control of all stages of their products’ development.

“Every time we sold to a reseller as a farmer, we were removing a level of the relationship between us and the customer,” said Zach Miller.

Zach and Sara Miller have operated the farm off Garth Road since 2007 after becoming inspired by the work of Joel Salatin of PolyFace Farms in Augusta County.

“Salatin’s model interested me a lot because he was talking about getting in touch with the retail customer and cutting out three steps of distribution so that the farmer can make a decent return on their time, energy and effort,” Zach Miller said.

The pair began selling from a stand at their farm in 2012, but quickly realized they needed a retail establishment to meet demand.

“We were out in the middle of the country with limited hours and the traffic was great,” Miller said. “The public nature of running a retail business at a place that was also a residence didn’t fit well with the residential nature of the farm.”

The Millers are able to sell vegetables straight to market without much regulation but meat products undergo more scrutiny. They have a small-farm exemption for poultry, but beef and pork must be slaughtered and processed at a facility certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“The location of those plants are generally far away from Charlottesville,” which can add cost to the finished product, Zach Miller said.

The new market in the Coca-Cola building offers butchering services, which Miller said allows more control over the product. Previously, they had to rely on those services being provided by third-party processing facilities.

“Somebody who walks in gets to pick out exactly what they want and one of our butchers will cut it right on the spot and have a conversation with them about the animal and how it was raised and how they might prepare it when they leave,” Sara Miller said.

The market has a café that offers a full lunch menu with sandwiches as well as a service that will serve supper to go. The executive chef, Allie Redshaw, formerly worked at Pippin Hill.

“It’s our proteins and she has sourced produce either from our farm for from other farms that we have collaborated with and has created sandwiches on Albemarle Baking Company bread,” said Sara Miller.

The market also features a cheese shop operated by Nadjeeb Chouaf, a cheesemonger who moved his counter from the Millie Joe coffee shop.

“He has such a high standard for the selection he has curated, so he’s a natural fit,” Zach Miller said.

As part of the development, a new 90-space parking lot has been built on pervious pavers to help with stormwater runoff. Both Millers said the ample parking will give them a strategic advantage.

“I don’t know   of any other place in downtown Charlottesville where you have this much parking available,” said Sara Miller.

The Millers said they consider the Coca-Cola building’s central location to be another advantage.

“For somebody living in Keswick, it’s not too daunting to come to Preston, and the same for somebody who lives in Ivy,” Sara Miller said.

The Coca-Cola building is a work in progress. The outdoor patio at Kardinal Beer Hall is still under construction and there is no announced timetable for when that business will open.

The University of Virginia will also establish a station for its U-Bike sharing service at the Coca-Cola building to support the innovation lab.

“We’re the servicing contractor for all of the U-bikes so we take care of all of them and redistribute them,” Tevendale said.
 

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