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Feature: The Exchange on Main

A Brief History of The Exchange on Main

by Bill Cawley, Co-owner

The building now called the Exchange on Main was originally a “general” store built around 1927 on the footprint of the Exchange Hotel in downtown West Point. In 1965, Mac Richardson owned the property and completed a major renovation—doubling the size of the building and incorporating the barber shop next door. The barber shop is part of our building, but with a separate entrance. Richardson’s Men’s and Ladies Apparel was a very successful business for the next 30 years. Mac decided to retire from the business and my wife Juanita, and I purchased the property in 2005 mainly because we didn’t wish to see another empty storefront downtown. Now, we had to decide what to do with the building to make it a busy viable part of the downtown business district.

I was planning to retire from the Hampton school division after 37 years of service—20 years as teacher of political science and coach and 17 years as principal. Our primary residence in West Point was built in 1884 and is filled with Victorian antiques we have collected over the years. Opening the building for antiques was a “no-brainer.” We were approached by a couple who had the same idea. We decided to rent the store to them, and West Point Antiques opened in 2005. I then did some consulting work and worked for the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation for the next 2 ½ years when the couple who were renting the building decided to close the business. West Point Antiques was fulfilling our vision, so we bought the business from them and kept the store open without closing for a single day. We held an Open House on September 20-21, 2008 and have been open seven days a week since. We and two part-time employees take care of the day-to-day operation of the business.

In 2012, Juanita retired as Assistant Superintendent for the West Point Public Schools to serve as Rotary District 7610 Governor, a volunteer office leading 65 clubs in an area encompassing the Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck in the south to Fairfax county in the north and Charlottesville in the west. Next, she chaired the district Rotary Foundation committee and led a campaign to raise more the $3.5 million for the humanitarian work of The Rotary Foundation. After finishing these endeavors, she has devoted more time to making the store a cheerful and enjoyable shopping experience for our customers.

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we decided to pause and rethink our business model. It was successful, but could we be something different? Our background is in collaborative decision-making and strategic planning. So, we put together a small group of entrepreneurs and makers and brainstormed options to utilize the building in a more creative way. One of our first actions was to apply to the State Corporation Commission to assign a name change (our business license is still West Point Antiques). We decided on the Exchange on Main because of the location of the building on the previous site of the Exchange Hotel. We use the Louise steamboat as our logo because it plied the waters around West Point taking passengers from the Terminal Hotel in West Point to Baltimore and Norfolk during our heyday as a tourist town.

Jessi Keefe and her business Homestead Cottage had already joined us, but we thought we could give her a more prominent location in the store. To do this we relocated several vendors to different places in the store. While we were doing that, we decided to repaint the inside with lighter more modern colors. One vendor—Coastal Connections—decided to expand her selection of causal beachwear. We greatly expanded our book selection, renaming it the Book Nook. Each of our vendors named their areas to make them more unique. The Groundhog’s Den, The White Rabbit, Squadrons, and more were born. We have been selling Savannah Grace cheese straws for many years but chose to add more specialty foods such as Miss Maude’s chocolates from Richmond and Bugle Call coffee a small-batch craft coffee vendor in New Kent County. We also carry local honey, BBQ sauce, and salsa.

To help local small business entrepreneurs, we have hosted numerous “pop-up” events including bakery goods, ice cream, CBD wine, and art in the store at no cost to help these innovative people promote their products to the public. Several of these businesspersons have launched their own successful enterprises.

From the beginning, our motivation has been to provide a well-managed and vibrant shopping experience for the people of West Point and surrounding cities and counties as well as visitors from outside the area—especially those visiting Williamsburg—and promote and encourage other small businesses. Currently, there are 23 vendors and numerous consignors selling an array of not typical but always distinctive and exciting products in our approximately 3500 square feet of space at the Exchange on Main.

Whether looking for that special one-of-a-kind gift, browsing, or simply “looking,” we love to have visitors. Come in. Sample our coffee and enjoy the great jazz music!

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