The “Future of Retail” – a hot topic even before the Covid 19 pandemic – is difficult to predict. And few would imagine that it could take shape on a 45-acre property in Albemarle County, Virginia, about six miles south of Monticello and right in the middle of the state’s wine country.
But that’s where Division Road founder Jason Pecarich decided to relocate the company he founded in Seattle in 2015 to bring traditional menswear brands to a locally underserved market. The diverse range of the shop was driven by the focus on “manufacturer brands” that produce the goods themselves, from big names like Crockett & Jones or Alden to cult brands like Japanese denim manufacturer Iron Heart or De Bonne Facture from France. In addition to the merchandise of these sometimes hard-to-find brands, Division Road has put its own stamp on product, often releasing exclusive products with its roster of manufacturers.
Pecarich, who isn’t from Seattle himself, chose the city in part because Division Road’s “shoe first” emphasis resonated with the long history of shoe-making in the Pacific Northwest. But he always intended to run it as an “e-boutique,” with the same attention to selling online and a commitment to producing quality website content in-house.
When the pandemic struck, Pecarich had a chance to pause and consider what kind of environment the company needed to grow. He soon concluded that it wasn’t worth paying a premium to use urban space for online operations and product fulfillment, especially when it was unclear how long it would take for physical retail to recover.
Instead, he would use this one-time disruption to build an entirely different retail experience outside of an urban setting. “If we’re going to change the face of retail, now is more of a good time than five or 10 years from now,” says Pecarich Robb report.
After closing the Seattle store in July 2021, Pecarich narrowed the statewide search for his successor to five finalist locations, ranging from New Hampshire to the Hudson Valley. Eventually, he settled on a property in Albemarle County that included what was once a horse stable and farmhouse, as well as acres of woods and fields.
The buildings were converted into a new operations headquarters, fulfillment center, studio and 2,000 square foot showroom that customers could visit by appointment and opened in August. The remainder of its idyllic expanse is transformed into what Pecarich calls “The Fields,” a nature preserve where visiting desk jockeys can take their Indy boots out for a real woodland walk.
But just as crucial to the project is what lies beyond the new boundaries of Division Road. Located about an hour from Richmond and two hours from Washington DC, the property is surrounded by vineyards, craft breweries and other businesses that have made Albemarle County a hub for agritourism. It’s a bet that the consumer who gets in their car to see how wine is made might also be interested in how a pair of welted boots is made.
“We wanted to be in an area where [agritourism] is the tourism driver,” says Pecarich. “When we talk to our customers about the places they vacation to and the types of experiences they are looking for, we thought if we’re going to be somewhere else, maybe we should be somewhere like that.”
Division Road is also working with some neighbors to offer customers a free glass of wine or beer while they shop the showroom’s wares. Afterward, they are free to roam the fields, perhaps taking advantage of one of the designated picnic areas or the two-mile hiking trails. In addition to such solo experiences, Division Road will also invite customers to frequent Maker events; A recent romp with Washington shoemaker White’s brought the company’s CEO to the premises to give a presentation on shoemaking and conduct a question-and-answer session with around 20 customers.
In the future, Pecarich hopes to build cabins to provide overnight accommodation and work with local artisans to make furniture from the property’s felled trees. Currently, personal shopping accounts for about five to 10 percent of the company’s sales, but Pecarich doesn’t think that number accurately captures what Division Road’s new environment has to offer.
“We want to get out of the transactional relationship. Sure, everyone who comes here ends up buying—this isn’t a bar. But that’s not the point,” he says. “We want them to come here to educate themselves, connect with the brand and really experience something.”
As it turns out, not everything in retail has to have a price.