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Hidden vault inside Virginia coffee shop captivates the imagination — and the internet

Buckroe Coffee Co. at 1936 E. Pembroke Ave
Posted at 9:05 PM, May 21, 2023

HAMPTON, Va. — A coffee shop coming to Buckroe Beach became the focus of worldwide internet intrigue after business owners documenting the building’s rehab discovered a locked vault hidden within the shop’s walls.

Chesapeake resident David Spring and Virginia Beach resident John Napier hope to open Buckroe Coffee Co. at 1936 E. Pembroke Ave. this summer. But their renovations took a detour when they discovered a mysterious vault as they tore down drywall inside the roughly 2,400-square-foot building.

Napier said he knew the building had previously served as a bank through the 1990s but had no idea the vault was left behind. Excited by what they found, Spring started recording their discoveries and uploading the videos to Instagram and Facebook.

“I just posted that video randomly because people like house flipping shows,” Spring said. “I’m like, ‘Well, how about, like, business flipping?’ Right? That might be a fun thing to share.”

The April 19 Instagram video showing the discovery of the 9-by-12-foot vault quickly amassed more than 4 million views, and the company’s Instagram page ballooned to more than 32,000 followers eager to see what was in the safe.

Spring contacted David Goodman of Coffey’s Lockshop in early May to help him open the vault. But the vault, which had likely been unused for decades, was rusted shut.

“When I realized that the vault was unopenable from the outside because of rusted bolts and everything, that’s when we decided we had to cut through the walls,” Goodman said.

Spring and Napier turned the opening of the vault into an exciting event online, livestreaming to followers for seven hours on May 3 as they cut through the vault to reveal what was inside. Napier said it was shocking to see people from all over the world tune in, many from other countries such as Australia or Sweden.

“People were just invested. They just wanted to know what was going on,” Napier said. “So, it was encouraging in a lot of ways.”

To get into the vault, they cut through solid concrete to make a 1-foot hole for the team to crawl through to enter the bank vault from behind.

After seven hours of cutting through concrete, Spring and Napier could finally enter the vault.

But while the vault brought the business partners internet fame, it didn’t contain any fortune.

Inside the vault, they found an assortment of random items including books, mugs, horseshoes, license plates, receipts, computers from 1992, old bottles, stuffed animals and dishes. They also found a safe within the vault, which contained only rubber bands.

Napier acknowledged there was no “buried treasure,” but he said he found the discoveries inside the vault amusing.

Most viewers appeared to get a kick out of the expedition as well, though Spring said some people were “pretty hostile” about the lack of a treasure inside the vault. He compared the situation to when Geraldo Rivera opened a walled-off underground room in the former Lexington Hotel in Chicago on live TV. The 1986 broadcast, which drew in 30 million viewers hoping to see the discovery of goods owned by crime lord Al Capone, disappointed audiences when the vault turned out to be mostly empty.

Spring said he tried to warn people that there may be nothing significant in the vault, hoping to avoid the same backlash.

“They’re like, ‘You could have opened it by now if you had the combo,’ and I’m like, ‘It’s rusted shut,’” he said.

He hopes the newfound social media fame will translate into support for the coffee shop when it eventually opens. In fact, the business leaned into the popularity of the vault expedition in its marketing efforts. Online, the company is selling bags of the aptly named “safe haven” roast coffee and merchandise featuring safes and keys.

Napier, an attorney and real estate investor, bought the property thinking it could have “transformative” potential for the area.

“If we can accomplish what we’re hoping to accomplish, we really want to make this a pretty fantastic community space,” Napier said.

Plans include restoring a drive-thru service, but also turning space behind the building into a small garden, pumpkin patch and event area.

“We’re going to offer the benefit of a ‘come in and sit down’ coffee place with air conditioning, spectacular Wi-Fi, merchandise and swag,” Spring said. “Maybe have a little section for some beach stuff if somebody wanted to pick up some beach towels or whatever because they forgot them on the way to the beach.”

They hope to open the coffee shop on July 1. Spring wants to hire 35-40 people and said he is already in the process of interviewing people.

As for the items found in the vault, Spring and Napier hope to put them on display in a glass shelf for customers to see. Spring said the vault is too big and heavy to move, so it will remain where it is. He hopes to turn the vault into a walk-through attraction where people can go inside the vault and buy merchandise. He does not intend to cover up the hole they cut to break into it.

“I feel like it’s a scar; it’s bragging rights,” Spring joked about the hole. “We’ll maybe put a little plaque above it where it’s like, ‘These guys worked way too hard to get inside this empty box.’”

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