Business news from the Fredericksburg region.
GETTING TO KNOW: SCARLETT PONS
Where you grew up: I did not have a hometown growing up. Since my father worked for Voice of America as an engineer, my family traveled for the first 20-plus years of my life. We moved every two to four years and lived in the Philippines, Morocco, England, Greece and various places in Maryland and Virginia.
Where you went to college: I graduated from Virginia Tech with a bachelor of arts in architecture and urban studies.
How you met your husband, Gabriel (Gabe): We met in college; he was also studying architecture. He was kind and studious, amazingly talented and a boy with a heart of gold.
Family details: We have two amazing, high-energy young boys: Cairo, who just turned 5, and Diego, who just turned 8. Gabe and I celebrated our 10-year anniversary earlier this year. Everything I do stems from their joy, love and support.
Career background: After graduation, I moved to New York City in 1998 with my sister, who is a professional dancer. I worked as an architect for seven years for two different firms. The first was Scarano and Associates in Brooklyn, where I mainly did rehabs—converting what was once early-century, brick, industrial buildings into apartments.
Then with Guenther 5, whose main focus was greening the healthcare industry. I worked on renovating, in a sustainable manner, existing healthcare spaces and designed a large new addition to Maimonides Hospital in Brooklyn.
Both were unique and challenging, and everything I apply toward my business and professional relationships today I learned from the professional world of architecture.
What led to your decision to move to Fredericksburg? There where several reasons. One was we wanted to start a family and wanted to be by family so our kids would be close to grandparents. We were ready to hang up our architecture hats and transition into art and thought Fredericksburg would be a great place for this with affordable rents and a strong and growing art community.
We loved Brooklyn, where we were living—the sense of community, the history and architecture—and were adamant about finding a place that had those qualities. Fredericksburg was it!
Why you chose Caroline Street to start your business: Gabe and I were casually looking for 18 months for a place to start PONSHOP Studio and Gallery, calling every property that came up for rent. We wanted to find a place where I could have a kiln and Gabe could spray-paint and teach his classes.
When 712 Caroline St. came up it was perfect. It has a rear yard, which means space for the kiln and outdoor painting and a place for the boys to run when they are with us. The façade also has nice big storefront windows that lend themselves to a more-contemporary feel.
Describe your business: In one phrase, “We don’t buy gold or guns we sell Art.” I’m the main potter, my husband is the main painter and we represent more than 30 other artists mostly from Virginia. Our main focus is local to Virginia and all handmade.
Your thoughts about the future of Fredericksburg’s economy/business climate: Gabe and I have recently had conversations with several business owners who have had businesses downtown for 10 years or longer, and they are all saying that this past year was by far the most challenging economically.
Also in the eight years that I have been downtown I have never seen as many vacancies as this year. We also have several key buildings that have remained vacant for far too long and are more than likely suffering under some type of damage due to vacancy.
The positive side is that we have several key businesses that have been downtown for a long time that continue to hold downtown together, combined with several new businesses that are re-energizing the scene.
We have all the elements to make a great downtown, maybe one of the best in the country. We have architecture, history, natural landscape and many organizations—non-profits and government, public and private—that see the value in Fredericksburg, but we have to strengthen our communication and build an avenue to bring all those ideas together.
How/why you got involved in the Main Street initiative: More than two years ago my business neighbor, Bill Beck, asked me to consider getting involved in Main Street. I knew nothing about the program and started attending the first community meetings that were being held. I quickly saw the value of the program and started researching the program itself and what other communities were accomplishing with their Main Street Programs.
My thought was that our business will only be successful if this entire downtown is successful. I saw the Main Street program as an opportunity for me to volunteer using my skills. I have lived in and experienced many vibrant cities, and I feel strongly about propelling Historic Fredericksburg’s economic viability and promoting the city as a vibrant place to do business, live and visit.
How do you think Main Street will help downtown Fredericksburg: To date, I have had close to 60 one-on-one conversations with downtown business and property owners, local politicians and residents about Fredericksburg—covering the current business, economic and historic preservation climate and Main Street.
Initially the Fredericksburg Main Street Initiative will be that vehicle to begin communication between all those involved in our historic downtown. We need to improve how the businesses are communicating with each other, with the city and the Economic Development Authority, and with the community at large.
I see so many individuals and organizations running parallel with each other with similar ideas and concerns, but not working together to improve our community as a whole. I believe Main Street is the missing communication link.
Where you live: Hartwood.
Hobbies: Petting my cat and trying to keep the garden from completely turning into a wild jungle (honestly not that I think that would be so bad).
Favorite local restaurant: There are several, but lately my favorite restaurant is The Soup & Taco Etc. It’s the closest to our shop, so it’s our go-to place for a quick lunch or dinner. I am never disappointed! Always fresh and quick!
Describe the kind of artist you are: I’m an aspiring lifetime clay artist. I am in constant search of creating things that give value and joy to people’s lives.
Thoughts on Fredericksburg’s arts scene: The art scene in Fredericksburg is full of surprises. I am constantly amazed at the quality and variety of work coming out of this town. We have several individuals who are really laying down the ground work for this town to be an amazing art center.
The exciting aspect is that we are just beginning and have so much room to grow. Art, culture and historic preservation is a beautiful combination.
What you hope Fredericksburg looks like in 20 years: In 20 years I hope our historic fabric looks even better than it does today, and we have made great strides in respecting and preserving our buildings. I hope we have a riverfront park that is environmentally sound and architecturally significant.
I’m a little surprised and slightly disappointed that with all the construction happening in the heart of our city we have yet to see a true work of architecture, something original and yet sensitive to its surroundings.
I hope the city continues to connect itself to its surrounding communities with more bike and walking paths. I hope to see Fredericksburg continue be the the center for new ideas and creativity in our region.
—As told to Bill Freehling