Brewing up sweet business

Published 8:13 am Wednesday, February 11, 2009

BOYKINS—One business owner hopes she has found the formula for sweet success and, in doing so, can help jump start a Main Street renaissance here.

And it all starts with coffee and ice cream in a once dilapidated building that has been restored beyond its original splendor.

“I love coffee,” said Debbie McManus, who opened Boykins Beans & Ice Cream with her husband, Mike, last week. “We learned that successful towns have something like that — coffee and ice cream shops — so we thought why not combine them so Boykins can have both?”

The couple spent two years renovating the 4,800-square-foot building from the ground up, and most of the work was done by Mike himself.

“He had the vision. We did it little-by-little and got it done,” Debbie McManus said.

Before that, the building housed an old supermarket, which had been run by well-known resident Buck Lassiter, sat vacant for years and its roof and rear wall had collapsed.

Mayor Spier Edwards said the shop, which opened last week, will help revitalize the small downtown.

“It’s a drawing card for Boykins,” he said. “There are no other small towns around here that have something like this. It’s a greatly needed addition to our community.”

The couple strived to bring a cozy, family-friendly atmosphere to the shop, which includes a reading area, fireplace, gifts and cards for sale and plenty of seating.

The store also is wired for wi-fi connections and plans to renovate and open up the balcony area are on the “wish list.”

In addition to all varieties of coffee drinks, Boykins Beans & Ice Cream offers 16 ice cream flavors, milk shakes, floats, pizza and baked goods shipped in daily from New York. The couple also is working on perfecting future sandwich offerings.

“We have named all the sandwiches after local families,” Mike McManus said.

Mike McManus, also the director of the Boykins Main Street Initiative, is retired from the military.

The couple, who grew up in Plymouth, Pa., owned and operated a print shop in Virginia Beach for 13 years before resettling in Boykins six years ago. The couple bought a vacant, fire-damaged house near Town Hall and restored it to its former glory.

They’ve turned the coffee/ice cream shop into a family affair. Daughter Mandy, a junior at Southampton High School, helps run the counter.

The first week was successful, the McManuses reported.

“We sold twice as much ice cream as we were projected to sell and we brewed, served and shipped 35 pounds of coffee in the first week,” Mike McManus said. “On Saturday, people came in from Williamsburg to check us out.”

The store also seems to be getting regulars from nearby Narricot Industries, he added.

McManus said a bus traveling through town recently stopped and the people got off and stood in line for goodies.

Unfortunately, they weren’t open for business yet. But it was still an encouraging sign.

“If a bus will stop, that’s good news for us,” McManus said.

According to a 2007 Virginia Department of Transportation traffic study, about 6,000 people drive through downtown Boykins every day.

“We’ve got the traffic, we just need a reason to have people stop,” he said. “This place is a beginning. It’s unique to the area. It’s like something you would see in Virginia Beach or New York.”

Besides the ice cream shop, the downtown boasts a dry cleaners, post office, thrift store, hair salon, active Masonic Lodge, and butcher/restaurant.

Edwards said he has encouraged property owners to clean up and renovate spaces, not only to beautify the town but also for potential business owners to eventually rent.

“Our main problem right now is that we don’t have anywhere to put them,” Edwards said.

To solve that dilemma, local businessman Jack Wilroy is currently fixing up several other businesses along Main Street.

Mike McManus said he hopes the ice cream and coffee shop, which is directly across the street from Wilroy’s properties, will entice business owners and customers alike.

“We’re trying to bring people out,” he said.

Edwards said a three-year effort to woo a Dollar General store to Boykins may come to fruition very soon. Owners are set to close on the property, which is located at Main Street and Bass, in May, he said.

“Once the Dollar General gets here, that will bring more people to Boykins,” Edwards said.