May 8, 2018 | Main Street Spotlight | Main Street Roots Run Deep in Downtown Wytheville | By Todd Wolford, Executive Director of Downtown Wytheville |
Todd posing next to the Edith Bolling Wilson timeline mural at the Heritage Walk in Downtown Wytheville.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Main Street in Downtown Wytheville, Virginia was the place to be. Locals from that era always mention the Soda Shop and share stories of what it was like back in the day. Upon returning home from World War II, William “Ed” Goff owned and operated the local hot spot. If you were from Wytheville or the surrounding area at the time, you certainly remember this café on Main Street. The Soda Shop was a full-service restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. The café was famous for its hot cooked meals, homemade donuts, cakes, pies, ice cream floats and milkshakes. Not to mention, his wife Iona Goff ran the Central Drug Store Fountain, also in downtown Wytheville, that was a very popular spot for the locals to hang out. Unfortunately, the Soda Shop was destroyed in a fire that also took many historic buildings from downtown on New Year’s Day in 1971.
Clockwise: 1. Ed Goff (Todd's grandfather), a member of the 718th Amphibious tractor battalion stationed in Okinawa, Japan where he drove an amphibious tank hauling soldiers from ship to shore. 2. The façade of the Soda Shop on Main Street in Downtown Wytheville. 3. The interior of Todd's grandfather shop where you can see him standing behind the counter watching the packed house inside.
Fast forward almost 50 years. Downtown Wytheville is merely a shadow of what it used to be back in those days. Vacant storefronts, rundown buildings, and blighted conditions plagued every corner, a familiar story for many Main Streets across the country. The town administration and council became tired of seeing a rundown and dilapidated downtown, while other communities around us were spawning with revitalization. This prompted Tommy Hundley, an advocate of downtown and councilman at the time, to form a group and follow the Main Street Approach that other communities were successfully using. The group got the ball rolling for what is now Downtown Wytheville Incorporated.
Born and raised in Wytheville, Todd Wolford was an active volunteer for the town on the Promotions Committee, assisting with events and volunteer coordination. At the same time, he worked for the local Parks and Recreation Dept. as the Community Program Coordinator. Soon thereafter, the Downtown Wytheville Inc. Executive Director position became available and some of the locals and community members started to encourage him to apply. It wasn’t until he sat down and weighed the pros and cons that it started to feel like the right decision to make a career change.
This position is not only a chance for me to grow professionally, it has become very personal. I think about my grandfather and his time in Downtown. I feel like I need to take this leap in his honor. He would be proud to know that I am striving to bring back the legacy of what he was once a part of in Downtown. This is a chance for me to continue to make an impact on our community and create change for future generations to come. That is rewarding to me.
Since starting as Executive Director, Todd has helped the organization achieve Virginia Main Street Designation Status and national Accreditation. “We have a great team of dedicated volunteers and our relationship with local government and Town Council has been exceptional. Without their support, we couldn’t do the things we have done here in Wytheville.”
The Town of Wytheville has almost completed a $4 million-dollar streetscape renovation in which Wolford was the key contact and liaison between the property and business owners. The streetscape project is set to be complete in early 2018. On the horizon, the group hopes to spawn another nonprofit to purchase, restore and renovate the old Millwald Theatre. This move will enhance the beautification of downtown with façade improvements and signage. Most importantly, it will continue to recruit and sustain business for job creation and economic growth.
Wolford has been a recipient of the John C. Morelles Scholarship for the past three years to attend the Main Street Now Conference on behalf of Virginia Main Street.
Main Street has come full circle for me, if it wasn’t for my grandfather and the personal tie, I probably wouldn’t be doing what I am today. We all know being a Main Street Director is a challenge on many levels, but the passion I have for this position and creating change runs deep!
Mr. Ed Goff passed away in 2001, but you can bet, he would be proud of his grandson and his efforts to bring back life to Downtown Wytheville.
Downtown Wytheville has spawned a total private investment of over 1.5 million dollars in the B2 downtown district. The organization has also generated over $480,000 of total volunteer hours in 2017. The town just obtained a $60,000 Community Business Launch grant on behalf of the Department of Housing and Community Development in which the organization raised an additional $21,500 of local matching funds. This grant itself will generate an additional $2 million dollars of private investment to the community in 2018 alone.