Washington County, VA Draws Visionary Entrepreneurs
Several Damascus companies claim annual business challenge prize
Each year Washington County holds a Business Plan Challenge, a contest that offers awards totaling more than $15,000 to eligible businesses. Notably, one of the county’s smallest communities — Damascus, pop. 800 — has produced many of the winners.
Me and Little Tree Gallery
If there’s one thing that many Business Plan Challenge winners seem to have in common it is having deep roots in the county. Consider Katie Lamb, owner of Me and Little Tree Gallery, a Washington County native who left for college and a career in New York City before returning home to start her dream business more than a decade ago. Lamb was the contest’s overall winner in 2016, and the experience and resulting exposure has helped her business thrive.
The Damascus gallery features works from more than 40 artists and boasts an extensive collection of highly sought-after Iron Mountain Stoneware, a stoneware company Lamb’s mother founded in the mid-1960s. One of the pieces, titled “Martha’s Flowers,” is in the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
“It’s stoneware that is high-fired pottery, so it can go in the microwave, in the oven and in the dishwasher. It’s nontoxic, and the colors and shapes are beautiful. I probably have the largest collection available for purchase,” Lamb says.
Even more remarkable, perhaps, is that her husband, Brian Zier, was the overall winner of the Business Plan Challenge in 2017, the couple having co-founded Trail Town Tiny Houses. The name of the company references Damascus’ nickname of “Trail Town USA,” because seven trails, including the Appalachian Trail, intersect within its borders.
As one might expect, the company offers custom-built “tiny houses” constructed on trailers for individuals or families “looking to downsize, simplify or escape busy lifestyles, or for those seeking an additional home, retreat or getaway,” according to the company’s website.
“We are very blessed and very grateful,” Lamb says. “The people in the county and everyone at the Chamber of Commerce and small business incubator have been extremely supportive and helpful.”
Mojo’s Trailside Cafe & Coffee
Interestingly, John Seymore, owner of Mojo’s Trailside Cafe & Coffee, has much the same backstory as Lamb, having grown up in Damascus before moving away and then returning two decades later. Seymore, a 2016 winner of the Business Plan Challenge, bought an existing coffee shop and then “expanded the menu considerably,” he says.
“Now we have a full breakfast, full lunch, and we also do dinner on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, for which we have incorporated beer and wine. We also do a considerable amount of business in baked goods, like homemade pies, cakes, cookies, brownies and scones.”
Like Lamb, Seymore reports getting tremendous support from the area business community, and locals make up a significant percentage of his clientele. The remainder of his business comes from the countless hikers and bikers that pass his shop on the Virginia Creeper and Appalachian trails, the latter of which goes through his parking lot.
Virginia Creeper Trail Bike Shop
Yet another local business that benefits from the hundreds of thousands of out-of-towners that visit the county each year is the Virginia Creeper Trail Bike Shop, which rents bicycles and shuttles cyclists up Whitetop Mountain, which allows them to ride downhill for 17 miles along the Virginia Creeper Trail.
“Most of our business comes from tourists who spend the weekend,” says owner Jerry Camper. “They come on Friday, ride the trail on Saturday morning, and then go to the theater and have dinner. Once people experience the natural beauty here, they fall in love with the area and come back again and again.”