By Lyra Bordelon
After being closed for nearly a year, one historic staple of downtown Ronceverte is getting a major update – the building formerly known as Rudy’s on Main Street has been purchased and is undergoing renovations to the multiple upstairs apartments and the two commercial spaces downstairs.
The upgrades are through the efforts of Chris and Jorge Rodriguez-Stanley, who bought the building. Although they not looking to open a business themselves, they have committed to repairing and restoring the structure. This is no small feat, with layers upon layers of paints and wallpaper, window glass to replace, structural issues to fix, new heating and cooling systems to install, and many, many more tasks at hand.
Chris is a Ronceverte native who has spent the past number of years in Los Angeles running a home grown business, a business that is now significantly cut back due to COVID-19.
“I was a dancer for years, now I teach Pilates privately,” explained Chris. “In Los Angeles the gyms are closed, the Pilates studios are closed. … I built a business for 13 years and it’s been decimated – it’s just gone. It will never look the way it did before so we needed something else to diversify. I was self employed and had built a customer base. … [Jorge], as a journalist, is now writing remotely, so we had time.”
Unsure of what to do, the couple looked to Chris’s family and the Greenbrier Valley to be part of their future. Chris spoke fondly of growing up in the city’s busy downtown, with people and businesses lining the streets, remembering a business his aunt ran out of the very building he now owns.
“We were looking for a house we could redo, use as a rental, and eventually make it our house,” Chris said. “Jorge was asleep and I was pursuing the places I always look and then … I scrolled all the way to the end and here this building was. I remember coming here as a kid and I remember sitting at Rudy’s, I remember sitting at the booth and seeing someone go down in the basement, connecting there was a basement and an upstairs and an apartment. Here I am, thirty years later, we own this building. … We got a great deal on the building. It just came when we both [have time] because of coronavirus.”
Although he’s not from the Greenbrier Valley, Jorge explained he has grown fond of it during his previous trips and is looking forward to contributing to it’s revitalization efforts.
“Every time we would come to visit his family I would tell myself we could move here for a while,” Jorge explained. “I’m not a fan of small southern towns, if you understand, as a gay, Latino man, that’s not really a place you’d feel comfortable, but there’s something about this place that’s charming and so nice that I’ve always wanted to spend a good period of time here. I’m really happy we’ve been able to do it.”
The scope of the restoration continuously jumps out at anyone that would tour the building in its current state. One upstairs room, painted a glowing green, was lit by the sun pouring through fogged glass. Chris and Jorge’s one-year-old dog popped his head through a hole in the wall and looked in from the hallway. Despite this, they explained they would be attempting to save as much of the original building as possible.
“A lot of the floors downstairs are not salvageable but all the hardwood floors upstairs are,” Chris explained. “We’re keeping all the trim and the molding. We have to reconfigure some of the apartments because they don’t make sense the way they are, but … the exterior is going to be the same. We love the building, it just needs someone to care for it.”
“We’re just trying to bring it back to its original [state], what it was supposed to be,” Jorge said. “In another room you can see seven or eight layers of paint, wallpaper, all this stuff under it. So much has changed.”
Despite the size of the task, Chris and Jorge are looking forward to the remodeling efforts.
“After four or five months of having a reduced schedule and not having anywhere to go or anything to do, suddenly having this 100 year old brick building [is great],” Chris said. “I love having a purpose, my job is now to get this building back and, hopefully, be a contributing part of bringing Ronceverte back.”
“Our whole intention is we’re going to bring the building back,” Jorge explained. “We’re going to fix the apartments, we’re going to turn [the downstairs] back into two different commercial spaces, instead of the one. If you want to put a restaurant, if you want to put a barbershop, there’s a space. … If you want to live here, if you want to work here, the space will be fixed up and let’s talk.”
The Rodriguez-Stanleys purchased the building before seeing it in person – Chris noted the real estate agent, his father, and an inspector looked through the building, guiding them through a video tour, checking for the numerous issues the couple could encounter in repairing it. Previously in 2019, Rudy’s was closed by the Health Department due to structural issues with the building, Chris explained, which are now part of their repair process.
“We bought it sight unseen,” Chris said. “… The inspector was really good, really honest with all of the stuff, so we knew what we were getting into. The first tour of the building, other than the ‘wow this is a big job,’ there were no surprises.”
Although the work has begun, any potential commercial space openings are still some time off. The work is planned for roughly two phases – the apartments upstairs, then the ground level. The apartments are coming first.
“We’re hoping that the building is done at … the same time next summer-ish, … at least the apartments,” Chris said. “The commercial space downstairs will be phase two because I feel like the apartments are going to be easier to rent out.”
As the ground-floor commercial spaces are ready to move forward, Tammy Dotson-Rhodes with the Ronceverte Development Corporation said she would help facilitate the business opening process. She thanked the Rodriguez-Stanley’s for working toward fixing the historic structure.
“Y’all are walking into an icon,” said Rhodes. “With Rudy’s you’re walking into history really.”
With the recent revival and expansion happening in several cities in the Greenbrier Valley, such as the explosion of downtown White Sulphur Springs, the restoration of the old Rudy’s building would be critical to Ronceverte’s future success.
“I think Ronceverte is going to be next,” Chris said. “It has all the space it has all the stuff, I hope the city is excited about coming back. … Ronceverte has the river, it has the railroad, it has to be a destination again. We have to bring things here for people to stop [and see].”