On set at Stonefield: They built it, but will people come?

Around noon on a recent Thursday there wasn't a soul walking the pedestrian-friendly sidewalks at The Shops at Stonefield on Route 29, the major county development that opened for business last year. Indeed, a Hook reporter was the only person walking the sidewalks. Nearby, the parking lot for Trader Joe's and Pier 1 Imports was only a quarter full.

Elsewhere in town at the same time, like on the Downtown Mall and the Barracks Road Shopping Center, things are bustling, outdoor restaurant spaces are full, and people are wandering in and out of shops. Over at Stonefield, however, the outdoor areas of restaurants, such as Burton's Grill, Travinia Italian Kitchen, and Noodles & Company, are empty. A few construction workers stepped outside to take a break from building the interiors of the shops and restaurants scheduled to open later this summer and fall – 15 in all, selling everything from jewelry, sporting goods, home and garden products, housewares, clothing, and furniture. Perhaps the streets will be bustling this fall. 

We know the Regal Stadium 14 Theater sees crowds in the evening, and during our visit that's where most people were. But the barren sidewalks, clearly designed for pedestrian strollers, prompt the question: will this place really be successful?

Messages left with Stonefield's public relations department yielded no response, but Albemarle County Board of Supervisors member Dennis Rooker, whose district the the development occupies, remains positive.

" I think they are pretty much on schedule with leasing," says Rooker. "The theater has been very successful, the Hyatt Place hotel should open soon, and the apartments in the development are renting."

Inside Brooks Brothers, the high-end clothing emporium that opened at Stonefield in April, one or two customers wander about, and a tray of complimentary bottled water and nuts hasn't been touched. Floor manager Casey Powell is folding clothes in the "Flatiron Shop," an add-on in only two of Brooks Brothers' stores, which features items for a hipper, younger crowd.

"We thought the other vendors here were going to open up sooner," says Powell. "It'll be nice when they're all open, to have a little competition on the street."

Asked about the lack of any people outside, and its effect on business, Powell says it's simply the slow summer season and that things will likely pick up after school starts.

"We haven't even had a grand opening yet," says Powell. "Things were booming when we first opened in April, but then things cleared out, so we're welcoming the opening of the new shops."

Also, as Powell points out, there are five new restaurants opening. Indeed, The Shops at Stonefield might have been more accurately named the Stonefield Food Court. In addition to Burton's, Noodles & Company, and Travinia, which are already open, new eateries scheduled to open this fall include Pasture (a Richmond favorite), Black & Orange (gourmet burgers), Cyclone Anayas (Mexican), Spoon & Berry (froyo), and Parallel 38 (Mediterranean). If you count Trader Joe's, nearly half the places at Stonefield are places to get something to eat, not to mention all the food options at the movie theater. 

Nearby, the brightly colored Hyatt Place, a 137-room boutique hotel, is nearing completion. Stonefield Commons, the apartment complex portion of the development, looks largely complete and occupied, yet the luxury apartments planned for a ground floor space right next to the movie theater haven't been started. 

Back in 2011, real estate expert Richard Spurzem predicted a possible migration of stores from Barracks Road to Stonefield, and that is happening to a small degree. Blue Ridge Mountain Sports is relocating to Stonefield, but the only other local retailer moving there this fall is Mincer's. Also, Londons Bathecary, which occupies a space under the Water Street parking garage, is heading across town to the new shopping center.

John Schablein, owner of the Albemarle Angler at Barracks Road, says he hasn't noticed much of a change since Stonefield opened, and in fact, he's heard a number of his customers say they're not fond of the new shopping destination.

"There's been a lot of support for Barracks since Stonefield opened," he says.

Still, there's one new shop at Stonefield that's causing Schablein some headaches – the Orvis store scheduled to open this fall. As the only certified Orvis retailer in the area, he's a little frustrated that the company would open a corporate store less than a mile from his shop.

"I guess we've been kind of a guinea pig for them," says Schablein, as his shop has done well selling Orvis products. "But Orvis isn't the majority of our products, and they've told us they're not going to have a fly-fishing portion of the store, which is what we focus on."

Meanwhile, the carefully designed streets and sidewalks at Stonefield, complete with flower pots, lovely wooden benches, and pedestrian-designed street crossings, has the feel of an empty movie set waiting for the action to begin. Will that action begin this fall when the new shops finally open their doors?

"The addition of apartment residents and hotel guests will provide built-in customers for the shops," says Rooker. "This is the neighborhood model in action."


if there was a bike path or decent bike route from UVA to Stonefield, I'd visit often. As it is I only go for the movies.

With the exception of Noodles & co., none of the restaurants are aimed at lunchtime crowds. They are all upscale restaurants for either expensive client lunches or dinners. The downtown mall on the other hand has lots of nearby businesses within walking distance and lots of cheap, good lunch options.

I don't know if Stonefield is going to be "successful" or not, but it can't really be compared to the downtown mall. A better comparison might be, the fashion square mall.

Stonefield was poorly planned (as many things in Charlottesville are) so it is a nuisance to drive around and park there. Also, do we really need ANOTHER frozen yogurt place?!

I went to the theater once, it was nice but the parking was not. I prefer going to Carmike, cheaper and easier.

It still feels unfinished. Especially the entrances/exits. That's what keeps me away.

A few questions I have about Stonefield:
1. If the plan was to get businesses at Barracks Road to relocate, what was the plan for Barracks if it became empty?

2. I can't find it, but I remember reading in the Hook, some years ago an article about the 25 things that people wonder why c-ville doesn't have. One was a theater with stadium seating (which we now have) another was a high end department store like Macy's or Lord and Taylor. A spokesman for Macy's was quoted as saying that c-ville wasn't a big enough market for their store. My point is, c-ville will have trouble supporting places like Brooks Brothers and pricey restaurants. There are a ton of restaurants anyways in c-ville, it would seem that they would all smother each other.

3. C-ville has Baracks, Fashion Square, and Downtown Mall, Albemarle Square, Shoppers Court, the shopping center that DAS is in. With online shopping being more of a norm, how are all of these places to compete in one town?

I don't wish for anyone to fail. I just wonder, like the author, what was the vision of Stonefield and what happens if it doesn't come to fruition?

There are no people at Stonefield because there are no stores at Stonefield. The place still feels abandoned, who wants to walk around there? I'm surprised to see how slowly the shops are filling up.

I call it bad timing. When the original plans for "Albemarle Place" were put on hold for a few years, they should have been permanently shelved, but the psychology of prior investment must have prevailed and so an ambitious project suited for the mid nineties is being built and is doomed to fail. Retail is overbuilt now with retail in general heading for the crapper in the future, especially retail of the overpriced junk variety so dominant in mall projects of this sort. I expect multiple vacancies and lease defaults going forward. Expect changes of ownership as the whole thing stumbles towards its appointment with destiny...and the wrecking ball. If Costco gets built it may be the bright spot in a sea of decrepitating store fronts.
The developers however will do just fine, making all their profit on the front end, all that matters to them. Others will end up holding the dripping s&%t sandwich it will become...

Here you go:

Entrance, parking, and exit are a bit odd. The first entrance on Hydraulic is too narrow...you can see tire marks on the left side curb where cars have hit it. The exit there was closed when it became apparent that it was tough to make a left hand turn and head to Cville. Parking is just odd, cannot put my finger on it.

As for the ghost town, unfinished feel, it reminds me of the RestonTown Center project 20 years ago. It was underpopulated and underused for a few years, but it is very successful now. It too was anchored with an H hotel and a multiplex from the beginning.

@Tony H., what other than making profits should developers be interested in?
It makes Sperry Marine look kind of lonely, all out there by itself now.
It's never too late to tear Stonefield down and put in 6 ball fields, with lights for summer nights and maybe a skate board park; those guys are crazy and fun to watch.
Farms are not lost forever, you can always tear down a sub-division and re-plow.
They tore down my favorite 7-11, I had to alter my morning coffee routine, so I really didn’t like Stonefield from the start. They used a lot of out of town builders and sub contractors, taking a lot of money out of our local economy. Maybe the county could pass a 90% local labor law. The new theater is cool, but don’t sit in the front row, can’t see the whole screen…
Yea…the ball fields would have been a good fit right there.

Some of us have chosen not to shop there after they erased two streams from the face of the earth forever. After all, how much sense does it make that Charlottesville and Albemarle would spend millions restoring the Meadowcreek only to bury the headwaters just a short distance away? They can pretend all they want that they are walkable and sustainable, but it's all just greenwashing to me.

Uninspired and cramped.
I probably would get a costco membership however.

Lonnie Murray, how did they erase two streams from the face of the earth? Did they just reroute them? The water had to go somewhere.

Good question. Do you remember the massive pipes that were on the site for a long time before it was built? That's where they put the streams. Read more here:


How should it have been handled? I've never seen a parking lot or shopping center with a stream running through it. I hear there used to be a tavern at Barracks Road that had a stream running through it.

I thought that Costco was to be built in the new retail space on 5th Street Ext./Avon St. Ext with Wegmans???? This is the first I have heard of this and was happy not to have to drive across town to go to Sam's Club for that kind of shopping. Very disappointed it's going into Stonefield which I find very difficult to navigate. The whole place is cramped and situated oddly and it's hard to deal with all the traffic in that intersection.