SNOW HILL – The building long considered the cornerstone of Snow Hill is set to see new life after years of sitting empty.
The town’s opera house, vacant for decades, is already undergoing renovations as the proprietors of Toy Town prepare to relocate their operation from Berlin to Snow Hill. Owner Richard Seaton says he hopes to have the move completed by April.
Seaton, who’s operated his antique toy store in Berlin for several years, says it was the opera house itself that convinced him and his wife to move the business down Route 113 to the county seat.
“It’s just a nice building,” he said. “What we love is that wide open brick look.”
Seaton said the 9,000-square-foot opera house was twice the size of his existing space on Main Street in Berlin. The larger building will enable him to organize his antique merchandise better and allow for larger scale displays. He’s envisioning sections of the store depicting certain themes. One area, for example, will represent a diner from days gone by while another might depict a country store. He’ll even have a working train display.
“I’ll have things better organized,” he said.
He says the building’s open floor plan will be perfect for his operation. Seaton, an electrician, plans to improve the lighting in the space and will also have a new floor and ceiling put in. The carriage house door he plans to install will enable him to get his larger merchandise into the building.
Michael Day, Snow Hill’s economic development consultant, is thrilled to see the antique business come to town.
“It’s retail,” he said. “It’s antique retail. It’s a museum. I can promote it as something different. It’s very unique.”
Day, who previously spent several years as Berlin’s economic development director, said the Seatons approached him to inquire about retail space in Snow Hill. He showed them several possibilities but it was the opera house — which is owned by the town itself — that attracted their attention.
“We love the building,” Seaton said simply.
Seaton and town officials developed a memorandum of understanding that essentially leases Toy Town the building for five years. Seaton will renovate it and cover all expenses and, if he’s still there in five years, will be deeded the building.
Day expects the store to draw people to Snow Hill, which has struggled to attract visitors in recent years. New businesses are starting to come to town however, and Day is optimistic.
“The Daily Brew (coffee shop) just opened and there’s an ice cream store under construction,” he said. “We’ve got the space and word of mouth is it’s starting to happen here. People want in on the ground floor and now’s their opportunity.”
When asked if he was concerned about the decrease in foot traffic his shop might see with a move from Berlin to Snow Hill, Seaton replied that he was not.
“I have a lot of out-of-state traffic,” he said. “When you get out of June, July and August, your regular people are the ones buying. They’re going to travel another 12 miles.”
He said he was going to begin doing business online as well once the move was made.
“Snow Hill is a nice town,” Seaton said. “They just need businesses. If they get some businesses in there the place will be booming.”