Gimme Shelter gets stay of eviction

Published 2:01 pm Friday, March 12, 2021

smithfield service station

The Gimme Shelter building, as it appeared in its early 1900s gas station days. Submitted | Isle of Wight County Historical Society

Smithfield businessman Mark Hall has a plan to save Main Street’s last remaining intact early 1900s canopy gas station — one which will allow Gimme Shelter, a nonprofit thrift store that benefits Isle of Wight County’s animal shelter and humane society, to remain in the building through at least October.

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. 

In February, Maynard Gwaltney, who’s been working with the Luters to acquire additional downtown property for the proposed development, had confirmed the gas station’s current owner and landlord, Thomas Askew, had agreed to sell the property to Luter.

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Askew, who’d been leasing the building to Gimme Shelter for $400 a month, had told Gimme Shelter founders Robin and Peter Knauth that they’d have to have everything out by March 31. But since then, another set of real estate negotiations has occurred — this time with Hall joining the Luters and Askew at the bargaining table.

Hall is chief executive officer of Hallwood Enterprises, and the owner of several downtown Smithfield properties.

On March 11, Hall learned his offer to buy the old gas station and restore it had been accepted by all parties. He made the offer in an effort to save the building, which he called “architecturally significant,” from the possibility of demolition.

“It’s a perfect example of a Virginia canopy service station,” Hall said.

Main Street was home to several during the early 1900s, among them 100 Main St., which now houses the Isle of Wight County Chamber of Commerce. But Gimme Shelter, which was known as the Shakespeare Cornett Service Station in its heyday, is the only one that more or less retains its original configuration.

When the Knauths moved their nonprofit into the building in 2010, it had no heat or running water. Eventually, they were able to add onto the structure with permission from Askew and some help from the community.

Now, instead of Luter closing on the property at the end of the month, “I will actually do that,” Hall said.

The renovations Hall has in mind will be modeled after another example of a canopy service station in Gloucester, which now houses the Fairfield Foundation Center for Archaeology, Preservation and Education. But he’s expecting the project to cost six figures, and said he will eventually need to set rent substantially higher than what Askew has been charging the Knauths in order to make the property self-sustaining.

“In order to preserve these historic properties, they have to be economically self-supporting,” Hall said.

As such, Gimme Shelter will still have to move eventually. But now there’s no rush.

He also hopes to work with the town government and Luter to ensure his and Luter’s projects both include landscaping consistent with what’s been done on the east end of Main Street — possibly including the extension of the town’s brick sidewalks and streetlamps.

“We’re really grateful that everything worked out the way it did,” Robin Knauth said. “I love the building. It’s a historic building. It deserves to stay, and as long as we can stay in it, we’ll continue making money for the animals.”