Gimme Shelter to close

Published 7:09 pm Thursday, February 18, 2021

Gimme Shelter, a nonprofit thrift store on Main Street whose proceeds benefit Isle of Wight County’s animal shelter and humane society, will close its doors March 31 after nearly 11 years due to “extensive civic improvements and development” in the area, according to its Facebook page.

Last year, former Smithfield Foods Chairman Joseph W. Luter III purchased and razed the former Little’s Supermarket and 1730s-era Dutch Colonial farmhouse known as Pierceville, intending to build a development that would “improve the gateway” to the west end of town, according to a letter his son, Joseph Luter IV, wrote to Smithfield’s Town Council.

Maynard Gwaltney, who’s been working with the Luter family to acquire additional property for the proposed development, confirmed on Feb. 18 that the impending sale of the Gimme Shelter store was to the Luters for the proposed project.

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“We’re very disappointed this has happened,” said Gimme Shelter founder Robin Knauth. “Luter’s offered to find us a place, but there’s no place we can afford in this town.”

Originally built as a gas station in the early 20th century, the store is listed as a contributing property in the town’s historic preservation overlay zoning map, but not a landmark one as Pierceville had been. It’s currently owned by Thomas Askew, who also owns the adjacent Cofer Auto repair shop on Grace Street and had been allowing Knauth and her husband, Peter, to operate their nonprofit out of the former gas station since 2010 for $400 a month.

When the couple first moved their secondhand merchandise in, the building had no heat or running water but eventually they were able to add onto the structure with some help from the community. Farmers Service Company, a Smithfield landscaping business, donated the gravel for the store’s parking lot and Blair Brothers, a Suffolk construction company, donated thousands of dollars in labor to fix a foundation issue that would result in leaks whenever it rained.

Now, it’s got heat, air conditioning, insulation, and has become a “gathering spot” for the community, Robin said, and the Isle of Wight Animal Shelter now has a new dog park complete with a brick wall memorial for dogs that have passed away, courtesy of $66,000 Gimme Shelter raised through its secondhand sales over the years. Gimme Shelter also used to give a $5,000 scholarship to high school students planning to study veterinary medicine in college, some of whom are now veterinarians practicing here in Isle of Wight County.

Two weeks ago, Askew stopped by Peter and Robin’s house to give them the news in person: he was planning to retire in April and the Luters had offered him a sizable sum for the former gas station. They don’t blame him for accepting.

“We would never have been there to start with without him,” Robin said. “He’s been a true friend. He let us do anything we wanted to to that building.”

While Peter is now working to set up a foundation through Farmers Bank for Gimme Shelter’s donations to animal welfare causes to continue, “We have to sell everything,” Robin said, and “There’s no way in the whole wide world we can do it” by the March 31 deadline they’ve been given.

Gwaltney couldn’t say whether the old gas station would be demolished. He’s still waiting on concept drawings for the development from people in Atlanta, which he isn’t expecting to receive for another month. Given that there are underground gas tanks in front of the store from its gas station days, “there’s a lot of money that’s got to be spent to make it usable for anybody but us,” Robin said.

Gwaltney further confirmed that the Luters are looking to purchase additional downtown Smithfield properties bordering the land formerly occupied by Little’s and Pierceville for the proposed development, but said he didn’t know for certain which ones. He did confirm that the Luters aren’t looking to displace Cofer Auto, Isle of Wight Christian Outreach or the Schoolhouse Museum.

According to Luter IV’s letter, his father envisions “a high quality development” including office space, multi-family housing “for all income levels,” a “small boutique hotel,” townhouses, single-family homes, assisted-living accommodations and potentially, a walking trail built in conjunction with the Smithfield YMCA.