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Sauer’s mighty holdings in midtown need spicing up

Posted at 1:09 AM, Jul 14, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-14 12:16:41-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Much of Richmond along the Broad Street corridor is now full of life as RVA continues its nationally recognized resurgence.

New restaurants, brewpubs, rooftop venues and other gathering spots are alive with those who visit or live nearby in hundreds of refurbished lofts and apartments - from downtown to Scott's Addition.

But in the middle, at N. Allen and Broad, there remains a stubborn oasis for the homeless and day-job hopefuls, along with open drinkers and litterers who have created urine-scented streets you can smell a block away.

While there aren't the broken windows of the famous syndrome that attracts crime and trouble, the long-suffering and faded former Sears building - with its weather-deflecting overhangs - attracts those who seek shade, company or who can't - or won't - go home.

There are two other ugly and weedy big buildings - the old Pleasants Hardware headquarters and the vast former state Department of Taxation - that whisper this side of midtown is not quite ready for prime time.

Old Pleasants Hardware

And all three are owned by one of the most storied firms in Richmond history, C.F. Sauer Co., of the epic spice, sauce and mayonnaise fame.

Sauer's offices and part of its manufacturing operations are smack dab in the middle of these blocks, its famous sign blinking beautifully and its historic plant scenting the air with thyme or whatever they're making that day.

My guess is the 130-year-old firm owns about five square blocks or more of that stretch of midtown.

The tax and hardware buildings are empty and have been slated for demolition to make way, reportedly, for a Whole Foods grocery and other tenants of a planned Sauer's Center.

Since 1981 or so, the guts of the Sears building has housed Sauer's busy shipping operation, in contrast with the exterior seemingly signaling abandon.

On Thursday I had a chat with Mark Sauer, Sauer's Executive Vice President of Sales, about their properties.

He said big changes are definitely in the works in coming months and years, including the slated demolition, the building of the grocery, a complete historic renovation of their 1911 headquarters as well as a makeover of the Sears building, which he said will house offices upstairs.

Sauer wasn't sure about the timetable but said it's all in the works and we should see action soon.

As far as the weeds growing up the face and in the parking lot of the tax building, as well as the weeds blooming at Pleasants and the litter and graffiti at the Sears building, Sauer said they will get on top of it.

The firm, once led by a man who believed in land and property acquisition, clearly knows how to get it done.

And old, rundown masonry building across N. Meadow Street from its headquarters has been beautifully renovated and now houses the architecture firm that designed it.

Stayed tuned for news of the changes.

But it's certainly interesting that this privately-owned, $300 million (or so), firm stands to gain the most from spicing up its properties and elevating this stretch of midtown for all the rest of us.