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April 17, 2017

Story passionate about investing in Old Town

Photo/Cassandra Brown
Walter Story purchased the former Sweeney’s clothing and shoe store on Main Street in 1995. It houses Black Bear Bistro and upstairs offices.
File Photo/Cassdra Brown
Mr. Story most recently bought this building at 19 Culpeper St. to house the new Black Bear Mercantile.
Photo/Cassandra Brown
The buildings at 34 and 32 Main St. (left) house a restaurant and second-floor offices.
At that time, it was a huge amount of money. It was a derelict building. Had no plumbing. No heating or cooling. The water piping couldn’t be used. People thought I was an idiot because I bought a building on Main Street.
— Walter Story
Walter Story
• Age: 76.

• Home: Old Town Warrenton.

• Family: Wife, Valerie; daughters Diana (business teacher at Fauquier High School) and Connie; two grandsons.

• Work: Owner, The Story Group Inc., 1990-2012; Artery Organization, 1973-86; construction worker, Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, 1960-62.

• Education: Bachelor’s degree, building construction, Virginia Tech, 1967; Chowan University, N.C. 1957-59; Franklin High School, 1957.

• Hobbies: Vegetable gardening.

• Warrenton property: 19 Culpeper St., purchased Aug. 2016; 13-17 Culpeper St., purchased May 1998; 32-34 Main St., purchased March 1995.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
With hard work and risk, he helped spark the revitalization of Old Town Warrenton in the 1990s.

Walter Story, 76, has invested more than $2 million in real estate to help improve downtown’s economic vitality.

He owns three buildings, in which he rents space to a restaurant, offices and a new butcher/grocery store.

Mr. Story said he invested in Old Town for passion, not profit.

“Warrenton is a prized possession and jewel in the state of Virginia in terms of Main Street and downtown, and it’s absolutely worth preserving,” Mr. Story said. “I’m doing what I can do to make sure that happens.”

Growing up in the small agricultural town of Franklin in Tidewater, he started delivering newspapers and mowing lawns as a 9-year-old. In high school, he worked about 40 hours a week at a grocery store. He earned $2 an hour.

After a few years of community college, Mr. Story worked on construction of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, which stretches 17 miles from Virginia Beach to Cape Charles on the Eastern Shore.

“Academics didn’t hold any interest for me, but construction was just fantastic,” he said. “I loved it.”

Shortly after Mr. Story got married in 1962, he met an entrepreneur in Franklin who steered him toward homebuilding.

“My dear wife, who was my guiding force in this, said, ‘You need to go back to school and finish your degree’,” Mr. Story recalled.

The first in his family to attend college, he graduated from Virginia Tech in 1967 with a bachelor’s degree in building construction. Two years later, he started building single-family homes, townhouses and apartments in Richmond and Northern Virginia.

While working for different construction businesses, he would invest his bonuses in real estate ventures.

“I used to worry my wife quite badly about my investments in real estate,” Mr. Story said. “That was my heart and soul, to be in the real estate investment business. I worked for other people, but that gave me the nucleus to be able to pursue my hobby of building and investing in real estate.”

In the 1980s, he built a shopping center in Duck, N.C., on the Outer Banks.

“I invested pretty heavily in the north beach, including the land for Scarborough Faire,” a shopping center in Duck. “It paid off.”

In 1990, he started his own business, The Story Group Inc., based in Marshall. He built several homes in Fauquier, an addition to Moser Funeral Home and a BB&T branch in Falmouth.

Mr. Story bought his first Warrenton building in 1995.

“In 1993-94, when I started looking at Main Street, you could throw a rock down the street after 5 o’clock any day of the week, and you would not hit a person or a car,” Mr. Story said.

He bought 32-34 Main St. from the Sweeney family for $130,000.

“At that time, it was a huge amount of money,” Mr. Story said. “It was a derelict building. Had no plumbing. No heating or cooling. The water piping couldn’t be used.

“People thought I was an idiot because I bought a building on Main Street,” he said.

In 2000, he decided to renovate the upstairs into office space, which rented quickly.

Mr. Story invested about $500,000 to renovate the building, hoping to make the first floor a destination restaurant.

After four different restaurants came and went from the space, Todd Eisenhauer opened Black Bear Bistro in 2009.

“I’m going to take a lot of the credit, because I think we brought a lot of vitality back to the town by opening a restaurant when we did,” Mr. Story said. “That’s been somewhat of a nucleus of opening up the Main Street after 5 in the evening.”

As the business grew, Mr. Story and Mr. Eisenhauer decided to add a wood-fired pizza restaurant in 2013 and expanded the building to house it.

“He’s been behind us 100 percent,” Mr. Eisenhauer said. “He wants business on Main Street to thrive, and he’s doing everything he can to help us make that happen.”

Mr. Story hopes other investors will follow his lead.

“I think the more we do this, it’s like a snowball. It starts gathering more enthusiasm from people,” he said. “I sold other real estate that I owned elsewhere . . . took that money and invested it here.”

Town Councilwoman “Sunny” Reynolds has known Mr. Story since the early 1990s.

“He has gone through all kinds of restoration and changes with owners and stuck with it,” Ms. Reynolds said. “He definitely wants his buildings and products to be the best they can be, and he strives for that.”

He also helps teach a construction course at Southeastern Alternative School near Midland and encourages students interested in the trade.

Additionally, Mr. Story serves as the director of fund development for Experience Old Town Warrenton, the new Main Street program.

His most recent real estate venture also involves Mr. Eisenhauer.

Black Bear Mercantile, a butcher and grocery store at 19 Culpeper, opens this month.

Mr. Story purchased the building last year for $525,000.

“He’s putting huge amounts of money into 19 Culpeper St., and I applaud him for that,” Ms. Reynolds said. “He is a huge supporter of Old Town.”

“Now, in my opinion, we need to get businesses to the side streets for people to come and shop,” Mr. Story said.

Bryan Hurst, a contractor who has worked for Mr. Story, described him as an “old-fashioned gentleman and a businessman, but he puts the community before the dollar. He definitely loves Warrenton.”

Mr. Hurst helped with the remodeling for Black Bear Mercantile.

“He’s great to work for. He’s a mentor,” Mr. Hurst said. “There’s been projects that maybe I wasn’t sure I could do or too much for me to handle, and he was there mentoring.”

In the future, Mr. Story hopes to create a small courtyard behind his cluster of buildings in Old Town.

He also wants to make the backs of the restaurants more attractive for customers entering from parking lots.

“I believe in Old Town Warrenton, and I see it as a very vital part of not only Warrenton, but Fauquier County,” Mr. Story said. “It has a beautiful Main Street preserved area and we need to further our work on keeping it that way.”
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Kay G. · April 18, 2017 at 1:42 pm
Thank you, Mr. Story... for making a HUGE difference to this community and county. You are leading by example. Hopefully others will indeed follow and help create a more vibrant main street (and side streets!). The residents, the businesses, the history... it's a great place.
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