Michael Woods had been hearing a lot of good things about Danville — its growth and the progress of the city’s revitalization efforts.
As an investor in health and beauty related businesses with properties in North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia, he began to think it might be time to see what he might do to become involved in Danville’s progress.
Woods has been a part of the beauty and personal wellness community for 35 years. As an investor, he enters a community with the mindset of someone who works in the beauty industry.
“Beauty parlors, nail salons, barber shops bring people together,” he explains. “That has always been part of the infrastructure of a community.”
Beauty parlors and barber shops are social centers. People go there to get their beauty needs met, but they go for the social interaction as well, they go to get the news, what’s happening in the community, what’s happening in the world. Patrons of these places will often learn what’s going on in a community, and even in the larger world, before it hits the news.
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It was actually one of his clients who introduced him to the potential in the YWCA building. JoAnn Pyles is a native of Danville and the owner of Marky’s Cuts. She saw that the building had been sitting empty for some time and thought it might be just the thing for Woods and the vision he has for the properties he invests in.
Pyles has fond memories of playing basketball at the YWCA as a teenager and of swimming in the pool there. She remembered that the building had a workout area, a daycare and many other services that might lend itself well to the current beauty and wellness market, which has been showing a trend toward small business cooperatives that occupy salon suites.
She thought that model might work well in Danville. Such a setup might provide an excellent place for small business entrepreneurs who were not yet ready to invest in independent brick and mortar spaces of their own.
And so she called James Buckner, the representing real estate agent, and made an appointment to see the property. She then phoned Woods, who came into town and toured the building with her.
“When I walked into the space,” Woods said, “I immediately knew we could revive the building and provide a space for the community and for entrepreneurs to call home. … Any time I walk into a facility, if I can’t see what it might be on day one, it’s not a purchase I’m going to make. When I walked into the YWCA building. I could feel the community. I could feel the entrepreneurialism … I could see the massage therapists and the beauticians operating in that environment.”
Woods says he could see it as the community center it was intended to be when it was the YWCA. He may be changing the purpose of the building, but he is, in many ways, restoring the intent. It will now be known as the Beauty & Wellness Center.
The Young Women’s Christian Association was established in Danville in 1920, its aim to draw together “women and girls of diverse experiences and faiths, that their lives may be open to new understanding and deeper relationships and that together they may join in the struggle for peace and justice, freedom and dignity for all people.”
The early organization found a home on the second floor of the Miller building. The building, which still stands at 423-425 Main Street, was new in 1920 and housed the Arcadia restaurant, the Crystal Café and Jacob’s Drugstore. On Jan. 18, 1922 at 1 a.m. in the morning, an arsonist set fire to the building, and the YWCA was temporarily forced out.
By March they were back in the Miller building, but they had already begun to feel the need for larger accommodations. The 1922 fire the first of its kind, and they began to fear this would be a recurring theme. The organization wanted a building of their own, and so they began to raise funds to secure a more permanent home.
In 1926, the organization secured the James E. Schoolfield house at 750 Main St. Architect Bryant Heard completed the remodel of the home for the organization.
“Not only does the lower floor promise to be most attractive and well adapted to association needs,” reported The Bee in May 1926, just weeks ahead of the organization’s occupation of the building, “but the upper floor with its large, cheery sunny rooms will be ideal for a dormitory for the self supporting young women who want the protecting influence of a Y.W.C.A. home.”
The premises included a tennis court in the back, but, even at that early date, they foresaw the need for a gymnasium and a pool. In 1933, a gymnasium was constructed behind the home, but it was not deemed feasible to construct a pool on the premises.
In 1970, the organization acquired the home next door, previously occupied by the city’s Community Improvement Council. The home, built by P.C. Penn, known at the time as “the Day home” provided more space for borders and served as the YWCA’s finance office.
In 1971, the YWCA announced that it had raised enough funds to construct a new building. In November of that year, the Annex (the Day house) and the gymnasium behind the Schoolfield house were demolished after a celebration of the groundbreaking for the new building. When the new building was completed in the fall of 1972, the Schoolfield house was also demolished.
The new building featured a kitchen, office areas, a room for dance and smaller group activities, and a large gymnasium. The pool would be built some years later. By the time the YWCA took over its new building, the mission had changed. It had become secularized in Europe, where the organization had originated in 1885, long before arriving in Danville, but by the 1970s, the primary aim had become one of “conquering racism wherever it resides.”
For Woods, the YWCA building is about community, diversity and inclusion.It was meant, from the beginning of its existence, to be a gathering place, and that is his intention still.
“We see it as a community center,” he said. “That’s what it was before. We aren’t changing the use of it. We are only bringing it back up to date or increasing the standard of it so that we can accommodate what it was originally for. It’s for all people.”
As Pyles remembers it, the building had a workout area, a daycare and two kitchens, and several other amenities that can easily be translated into working space for any number of enterprising businesses or community services.
“We are looking to stay within that concept,” she said. “If someone is looking to set up a daycare, we have space for that. If someone is looking to offer personal training, we have space for that. If someone is looking to offer catering or to host events, we have space for that. If someone owns a salon of some type, we have space for that. We welcome any type of business that is looking for a place to start up.”
The development of the property will come in four phases. The first phase includes the development of the salon suites.
Already, the building has three tenants. Pyles operates her salon, Marky’s Cuts, out of one of the suites. Antonio Fitzgerald operates Sharp Barber Shop out of another, and from a third, Deanna Blackwell, will soon be opening a nail salon. There is room, certainly, for more.
Woods is hoping to find a massage therapist, or some other spa centered practitioners to occupy the remaining spaces.
The second phase of development involves the gym and multi-purpose room. He’s looking for someone to come in and offer community activities, dance classes, possibly yoga, Pilates or any other kind of structured fitness instruction. Woods is also hoping to host events in the space. Just off the gymnasium is a commercial kitchen which might support a catered event such as a wedding reception or some other event.
The third phase includes the downstairs area where he envisions hosting after-school or tutoring programs.
The YWCA closed its doors due to lack of funding in 2007 but rallied and reopened in 2009. In June of 2011, the organization closed for good. The building stood empty for many years following and nearly became a shooting range at one point. Now at last it has a purpose that feels fitting.
Woods sees Danville as a city of optimism.
“I’ve always had a very positive outlook when it comes to investment,” he says. “When it comes to Danville, the city has an optimistic view moving forward.”
It was a matter of timing and the right attitude, for both Woods and the city.
Upon purchasing the YWCA building last year, Woods decided he wanted to acquire a residence as well. He looked around, made a few offers, but nothing worked out. And then, all of a sudden, the Lawson-Overby house at 782 Main St. became available.
It was virtually “right under his nose” as he said. He made an offer, and 12 days later it was his.
The fact that these properties are close together is providential but coincidental. The fact that they both are of historic significance is intentional.
Apart from his beauty related properties, Woods owns several high-end Airbnbs, and he thought here, as well, might be a good opportunity to invest in Danville’s revitalization.
“I love the old places because there is something about making them renewed that is really rewarding,” he said. “Not new, but renewed. I love the renewed spirit of the city. I love that these buildings are in the historic district. We want to keep the River District feel and, at the same time, tell the story of the properties and honor the histories that they represent.”
Woods sees himself more as a caretaker of these properties than an owner.
“When you are assigned to be a caretaker of a home, you can put your flavor in it, but you don’t change the history,” he said.
As far as what he hopes to accomplish within the community, he says said always asks himself one question: “How can we have an impact with other business owners?”
It’s his intention to find places that will support the growth of small businesses and entrepreneurs. The YWCA building really made sense for him in that respect.
The Beauty & Wellness Center will host a ribbon cutting and open house at noon Dec. 9.