Rippe’s celebrating 110 years in business as fourth generation now learning ropes

Posted by Danville River District News on October 23, 2017
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One day in 1907, a young couple decided to take a chance on Danville’s growing textile businesses and opened a store on Craghead Street, across from the Golden Leaf Prizery.
Annie and Benjamin Rippe sold sundries, buttons and fabrics, and also made hats.
Rippe’s was born and remains a family-owned and operated business in Danville’s downtown 110 years later.

The current owner and president — Ben Rippe, the third generation of the family to run the store — smiles as he thinks about his grandparents taking advantage of Danville’s boom-town days.
“It was an immediate success,” Ben Rippe said. “They expanded and moved to lower Main Street within 10 years.”
In that location — across from the former Kresge Department Store, now Jackie’s Beauty Supply, in the building that now houses Love Wig — stock changed from fabrics and buttons to ready-to-wear clothing, though Ben Rippe’s grandparents still made hats.
“It was a more affluent time,” Ben Rippe said.
In 1946, Ben Rippe’s father, Murray “Buddy” Rippe, was running the store with his wife, Esther. He learned from his landlord the building was being sold to Peoples Drug Store.
“Dad went to the bank [American National] and talked to Wayles Harrison,” Ben Rippe said. “Wayles said not to worry and walked him to the Elks Club and showed him a 25-foot-wide alleyway across the street.”
Ben Rippe said his father built the building that now houses the clothing section of the store and decided he wanted to add sportswear to the lines of better-quality fashion apparel the store carried. Annie Rippe was horrified.
“She said, ‘Who will buy that? People want dresses!’ but Dad went ahead and it bettered the businesses,” Ben Rippe said.
Elegant spiral stairs led to the upper story, where shoes were sold initially. But, Ben Rippe said, the man who leased the space didn’t do well and his father leased the space back and used for clothing and, eventually, bridal fashions.
Other products were tried — including a riding department and ski shop — and the store even expanded to a second location in Nor-Dan Shopping Center. In a 2007 Register & Bee interview about the store’s 100th anniversary, Buddy Rippe said they closed that store because it was simply too much work and business downtown was “sufficiently prosperous.”
Ben Rippe took over the store in the early 1990s, and by the mid 2000s decided to discontinue the bridal department. “It was only breaking even,” he said, and bought the building next door to add shoes back into the store’s inventory.
“I felt Danville needed fashion casual shoes,” he said.
Ben Rippe said he talked his father into carrying furs in the 1980s, and he went to school to learn how to care for and store furs. He said he works directly with the manufacturers and said feels the store has “better values than anywhere.”
The furs did well.
“People come from all over to buy these furs,” Buddy Rippe said in 2007.
Rippe said about half of his shoppers come from surrounding areas — such as Martinsville, South Boston, Chatham and Gretna — while about 30 percent comes from Danville. The remaining 20 percent comes from people who have heard about his store from friends or grew up here and return to shop.
“Throughout all the changes we’ve seen over the past 110 years, Rippe’s was always there, always stable,” Larking said. “They kept the store relevant all those years and it continues to be a great anchor store in the River District.
Larking said he has friends in Yadkinville, North Carolina — about 100 miles from Danville — who are regular Rippe’s customers.
“We never worried about relocating, even in the 1990s when downtown began to get so vacant,” Rippe said. “Retail is not booming for anyone right now. People dress more casually and they shop online. But we carry quality merchandise and will not be undersold with what we carry.”
While Ben Rippe is passionate about selling the best possible merchandise, he also just likes what he does.
“This is a fun and creative business to work in. Every season is something new and fresh and promising,” Ben Rippe said. “We curate brands with a range of customers in mind, for the young and young at heart.”

Clothing, shoes, accessories and furs range from contemporary to classic to casual — what Rippe calls “subtle to out there … It is like shopping little design packages aimed at varying lifestyles.”

Betty Jo Foster, interim president and CEO of the Danville Pittsylvania County Chamber of Commerce, said she has shopped at Rippe’s for 50 years, and even purchased her wedding gown there.
“A privately owned business [doing business] for that length of time says much for the value they put on the region; it speaks volumes that they stayed when so many left,” Foster said. “I value their customer service and appreciate the warmth of the staff when they greet you at the door. The quality of the merchandise throughout the years has remained high, and I think that’s what attracts many people to their business.”
A fourth generation has now joined the store. Sam Rippe, Ben Rippe’s son, graduated from Virginia Tech in July and has been working at the store since. He has introduced a T-shirt line and gift department, and is setting up a new software system.
“We’re working on bringing in more young people,” Sam Rippe said.
Both Ben and Sam Rippe said this has been a busy month at the store, getting ready for their anniversary sale and celebration — which included a drawing for a $110 gift card during the River District Sip-and-Shop on Thursday, part of the festivities planned for the River District Festival.
Ben Rippe said having well-trained staff, familiar with the items carried through in-house classes, product information meetings and daily informal chats. The store carried clothing in sizes 2-24W and shoes in sizes 5-11.
“We all know what runs small and what fits full,” Sam Rippe said, referring to the constantly-updated training staff gets in an effort to serve their customers better.
Ben Rippe agreed.
“We take pride in our work, service and the products we sell,” Ben Rippe said.
Sam Rippe said he looks forward to learning everything he can about the store, and is pleased to be back home.
“Some of my friends want to come back to Danville, some don’t. I wouldn’t be anywhere else,” Sam Rippe said. “I love Danville and want to be part of the family tradition.” 
Denice Thibodeau reports for the Danville Register & Bee. Contact her at or (434) 791-7985.

Celebrating diversity goal of ‘Faces of Our Region’

Posted by Danville River District News on October 23, 2017
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They’re young and no-so-young, different nationalities, races, religions and sexual orientations; some were born here, others moved here from all over the country and world.
Together they are the faces and stories of a new project from local nonprofit community help group Middle Border Forward. And this project, called “Faces of Our Region,” is intended to show the diversity within Danville, Pittsylvania County and Caswell County, North Carolina.
The project was unveiled Thursday night at the kickoff of the four-day River District Festival, with 25 portraits of people chosen out of far more interviews to represent the region, said program member Cassie Williams Jones.
Jones said there are posters of the faces all over the River District, pasted to walls of buildings on Union, Main, Craghead and Bridge streets.
Anyone with a smartphone can listen to their stories by scanning a QR code on the posters — or can access them through the organization’s website,
Sheila Baynes, another program member, said all of the interviewees were asked the same questions and were narrowed down to reflect 25 stories that show the diversity of the region.
Javonte Harris, a 15-year-old sophomore at George Washington High School, said he was at a Music on Main event when he was approached about participating — and seeing his face of River District buildings.
“I love it,” Harris said. “I liked letting people know about me and how I keep myself positive in Danville.”
Joanne Roberts, of Java, participated and was waiting to see the final product with her husband, David Locklear.
The couple came to Danville after she retired from 32 years of working for Verizon and he ended his military career in Virginia Beach. They both taught for a number of years before retiring again.
Roberts said she enjoyed participating in the project and telling her story.
Tia Yancey, a program member, told the crowd gathered at the office on Main Street that when the class was deciding on a project, they asked themselves what had Danville done well.

“One answer was at the top of the list: our people,” Yancey said.

That was the inspiration for “Faces of Our Region,” with all participants asked to choose one story from their lives that defines them.
Jones said exploring those stories culminated in a diversity of thoughts they wanted to celebrate.
The decision to participate was easy for the youngest participant, Nyla McClinton, 6, of Danville.
“I had really great fun doing that. I love being on camera — it’s my favorite thing, I love smiling and being on TV,” McClinton said with a huge grin. “It’s exciting to see me on the buildings.”
Denice Thibodeau reports for the Danville Register & Bee. Contact her at or (434) 7

Building Beertown: The Economic Allure of Brewing for Three Small Communities

Posted by Danville River District News on October 23, 2017
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Building Beertown: The Economic Allure of Brewing for Three Small Communities

Feature by  | Aug 2017 | Issue #127

Danville, Va.’s River District, where historic warehouses are being redeveloped for residential and commercial use, including Ballad Brewing’s 16,000-square-foot space. | Photos by Jack Sorokin
Danville, Va., was a textile town, booming with thousands of manufacturing jobs.
Then, like so many others, it wasn’t.
Located along the Dan River in south Virginia, a short distance from the state’s border with North Carolina, the small city flourished in the early 20th century thanks to businesses like Riverside Cotton Mills. When it merged with another mill and eventually became Dan River Inc. not long after World War II, it was the largest textile mill in the Southeast, employing around 5,000 North Carolina residents, many from the city and nearby communities.
But a more globalized world struck Danville’s bottom line, as the production and sale of fabric moved elsewhere. Modernization also came for the city’s economic reliance on tobacco and the railroad industry. In 2007, Preservation Virginia, a nonprofit dedicated to revitalizing the state’s historic places, listed the entire city on its “Most Endangered Historic Sites,” a designation spurred in part by nearly 1 million square feet of unused warehouse space that lines about five blocks of downtown’s Craghead Street. In the last 25 years, Danville’s population fell by roughly 20 percent.
For a city so defined by its past, it’s now looking to a decidedly trending business to help guide its future: beer.
It started with Vintages by the Dan, a bottle shop that opened in 2012 and in its first five years, increased dollar sales six times over. Then, 2 Witches Winery and Brewing Co. opened in 2014, and in June 2017, Ballad Brewing opened in 16,000 square feet of empty warehouse space. A third brewery, Preservation Ale & Smokehouse, is planned for 2018 just a few storefronts down from Ballad. On a second floor of that same building, Danville Community College is installing classrooms and small brewing “labs” as part of a new, for-credit brewing technology program that will partner with all three breweries for internships, providing a pathway into the industry—and hopefully one that will keep some students local when it’s time to go pro.
“We used to be one of the most prosperous cities in Virginia with tobacco, farming, and textiles, but so many people have left,” says Bruce Scism, president of Danville Community College. “This is a city no longer saying ‘this is what we used to be.’ This is the city saying, ‘this is what we are.’”

Rod Tomlinson of bottle shop Vintages by the Dan, which ignited Danville’s beer industry when it opened in 2012. | Photo by Jack Sorokin.
In a definitive way, Danville is living up to a mantra often repeated by the Brewers Association, noting that breweries are opening everywhere—urban and rural communities—and 78.5 percent of drinking-age adults now live within 10 miles of such a business. The industry is in rapid expansion, and municipalities of all sizes are looking to beer as a way to get tourists to visit and visitors to consider becoming residents. Now, more than ever, beer’s historic place as a social connector is seen as an opportunity to change the fate of Main Streets across the country.
“The city is ripe for and eager for a rebirth,” says Ballad Brewing co-founder Ross Fickenscher, who, along with business partner Garrett Shifflett, invested about $1.7 million into the company that is projected to produce $47,000 of tax revenue in its first year. They also received about $180,000 in state and city grants for the project. “With the removal of large tobacco and textile businesses, the city has continued to reel from those events and has a real issue on its hands with lack of occupancy downtown and lack of jobs. We believe there’s a lot of positive energy to try to reinvent Danville.”
For decades, young people have been sought out as the base for economic growth to stimulate and change cities and towns. Millennials, those born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, number almost 75.5 million, making them the largest generation in America and a pivotal force that now steers the direction of economy and culture alike. It just so happens that this group also really enjoys beer and the feeling of experiencing something authentic that can come from visiting breweries and beer-focused businesses. This has not been lost on Danville’s leadership, which has sent representatives from its Office of Economic Development to the Craft Brewers Conference the last three years, setting up a large booth on the tradeshow floor in an attempt to attract people to visit or businesses to open in the city of about 43,000.
Change is already taking hold locally.
“This was a Bud Light town 10 years ago,” says Todd Sparks, 46, a lifelong resident of Danville, echoing a statement mentioned repeatedly and independently by locals, business owners, and city officials. On a June afternoon, Sparks was buying Alpine’s Duet IPA and Ommegang’s Rosetta Kriek at Vintages by the Dan to restock his fridge. It wasn’t too long ago he had to make a weekly, two-hour round trip to Greensboro, N.C., to find full-flavored beer, buying Magic Hat and Avery bottles across the border to bring home.
“It’s not a knock against Danville,” Sparks says of now buying packaged beer or getting a pint poured from a tap connected to a bright tank at Ballad Brewing, “but it almost feels like I’m traveling out of town.”

Ethan and Alex Brown of 2 Witches Winery & Brewing Co., the first craft brewery to open in Danville, Va. | Photo by Jack Sorokin.
It’s that kind of shift in focus and expectation that continues to pop up in nearby communities, and in similar places nationwide. Both Virginia and North Carolina have surpassed 200 breweries, and across a swath of the Mid-Atlantic, small towns see the success of beer in larger cities like Roanoke and Asheville and are wondering, ‘Why not us?’
“We need variety,” says Todd Tucker, president of North Carolina’s Surry County Economic Development Partnership, which oversees four municipalities with a combined population of about 73,000. “Like a lot of other rural communities, we’re losing our young people to bigger cities because they have more things to do and places to go. We need things like restaurants, shopping, and breweries to attract and retain our young people, because that’s the stuff they like. This is what’s going to get people to come visit, but also consider moving here.”
In the past two years, Tucker has focused his efforts on trying to get small production breweries to consider Mt. Airy, N.C., a city 80 miles west of Danville with just over 10,000 residents. Population growth has been flat for Mt. Airy and Surry County for years, Tucker notes, and beer can provide the kind of “value added” businesses a town like Mt. Airy needs, because a brewery brings people downtown and has the potential to keep them around to visit other stores and attractions.
Tucker also points out that the area already boasts some of the best schools in the state and offers lots of opportunity for outdoor activities like hiking or mountain biking. Adding one more thing young families might consider as valuable to quality of life could be a boon for the town. At the moment, a consistent point of marketing for Mt. Airy is to bill itself as the hometown of Andy Griffith, and to host an annual “Mayberry Days” festival to celebrate the actor’s beloved 1960s TV show.
“With the idea of ‘Mayberry’ and Mt. Airy, we’re kind of at this crossroads where a new generation of the community is coming up and wants to seek out something unique they haven’t yet experienced and can share with their friends,” says Taylor Clark, marketing and events director for White Elephant Beer Co., a bottle shop that opened in Mt. Airy in 2016 with plans to add a 3.5-barrel brewery by 2018. “For us to progress as a city, we need to offer what others are offering and what’s missing here.”
Clark, 30, has lived in Mt. Airy his whole life. He’s proud of the nostalgia and feeling of welcoming comfort the town gives off, but also says it’s difficult to attract new residents to a place without a lot of special amenities and stores that close around 5:30 p.m., just a few hours before restaurants shutter at 9 or 10 p.m.
“In order to keep people here or draw them here, we have to provide something worth coming to,” he insists. That something, he thinks, is beer. Lager is White Elephant’s top draft seller, but Clark notes they still carry an array of styles, from fruited wheat beers to Imperial Stouts and funky Saisons.

Ballad Brewing head brewer John Andorfer and business operations manager Tim Meyer. | Photo by Jack Sorokin.
Clark believes a payoff in building local interest in beer is coming. Creek Bottom Brewing, a brewpub based in Galax, Va., recently opened a satellite restaurant in Mt. Airy. And there’s another brewery in planning that may set up across the street from White Elephant, Clark says. All of a sudden, this town of 10,000 might have three new reasons for visitors to come see what it has to offer.
That kind of interest—but perhaps moreso, hope—is a telling feature of how these small towns see the power of beer. It’s not just any kind of business that might present some level of economic advancement, but a galvanizing force that is meant to bring a community together, and bring more people to their community. For years, this has played out in the neighborhoods of large cities, but today it’s more achievable than ever for small towns looking for a boost in interest or simply a success story its residents can rally around.
“It has created for us an activity and opportunity for the folks who live here to enjoy downtown in a different dimension, but the [prominence] of our breweries is an opportunity,” says Sally Sandy, city manager for Morganton, N.C.
Interest in Morganton as a place for beer began in 2009, when Catawba Valley Brewing Co. moved a production facility from Asheville to downtown Morganton. But the city became a hot spot with a national profile with the opening of Fonta Flora Brewery, which gained prominence among drinkers thanks to an eclectic array of local- and foraged-ingredient beers that have twice won gold at the Great American Beer Festival.
In addition to local and regional beer enthusiasts flocking to Fonta Flora’s downtown taproom to buy bottles to-go, the brewery also hosts an annual “State of Origin” festival, which brings together 24 other breweries and about 500 beer lovers. Sandy notes that the festival typically draws attendees from about a dozen different states, many descending on Morganton for the first time. This spring, the brewery was named Burke County Attraction of the Year.
“That is all obviously marketing you can’t really buy,” she says. But that doesn’t mean Morganton isn’t doing that, too.
In recent years, the city’s advertising has changed to capitalize on beer’s popularity. Two billboards on Interstate 40 displaying happy drinkers, beer in hand, tell drivers “the rumors are true” about downtown Morganton’s fun offerings. A third sign sits on Highway 181, not far from the city.

Todd Steven Boera, brewer and co-founder of Fonta Flora in Morganton, N.C. | Photo by Jack Sorokin.
Sandy and other officials also use beer in conversations to spur interest among visitors. When magnet school North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics opens a second campus in Morganton in 2021, Sandy expects the city’s enhanced nightlife will be a recruiting tool for faculty and staff, thanks to the help of Catawba and Fonta Flora.
“There’s now this synergy among the breweries, our bottle shops, and restaurants, that creates a buzz because people who enjoy craft beer often talk to each other and share these kinds of experiences as word of mouth,” Sandy explains. “This is a kind of lifestyle that younger folks almost demand and they’re teaching some of us older folks that maybe we want that kind of thing, too.”
This is the dream so many other municipalities are hoping will become their reality, the talk of breweries succeeding in any size environment, with different populations and customer interest all driving tangible change. Twenty years ago, it was a new coffee shop that signaled the rise of a particular neighborhood or community. Today, it’s a different kind of beverage creating an economic buzz.
“Beer has always been on a kind of island here,” says Ethan Brown, co-owner of Danville’s 2 Witches Winery and Brewery. “People would travel between Danville and Lynchburg or Greensboro for beer, but I see them sticking around here now.”
Beer, with its grand, historic place as a social equalizer and mobilizer, is also generating ambition among cities, their officials, and local residents. There’s an excitement in conversations about what the industry can do for municipalities big and small. People see it as capable of building something special.
“It’s a reason for somebody to come to this area not just to live, but to play and have fun, and that’s the start of a vibrant community,” says Ballad Brewing co-founder Garrett Shifflett. “Take the buildings that are dark and vacant and put lights back on and give them life again. It creates one more reason for people to be here.” 


crema & vine – Ribbon Cutting images

Posted by Danville River District News on October 23, 2017
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crema & vine – Ribbon Cutting

Posted by Danville River District News on October 23, 2017
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