By Laura Lee
For centuries, Main Street has played a pivotal role in downtown’s commerce and community. The area got its start in 1757 when John Lynch established a ferry service on the nearby James River. By the American Revolution, Downtown Lynchburg had become an important village for trade.
Main Street today offers visitors to Lynchburg the best of both worlds: modern amenities with plenty of historic charm. Trendy boutiques, hip lofts, local cafes and a new craft brewery now occupy turn-of-the-century buildings, and historic, early 1900s landmarks—like the iconic Beaux Arts theater and the grand Virginian Hotel—have been meticulously restored to lend the city a strong sense of place.
A Main Street anchor, the Lynchburg Community Market has been going strong since 1783. Ricky Kowalewski manages the sunny downtown market and loves that Main Street is one of the first experiences visitors have when they drive into town. “Main Street really is the hub of our downtown,” he says. “There are so many great local businesses here.”
Start your day with a fresh cup of coffee and a walk through the open-air market, bustling with shoppers Tuesday through Saturday until 2 p.m. Vendors feature specialties ranging from baked goods to fair-trade clothing, handmade jewelry and pottery. There’s even a deli and seafood market located inside.
“It’s a great place to buy a cool souvenir and get a taste of Lynchburg,” says Kowalewski. “Saturday is the big day, where we have live music, and visitors get the chance to meet the makers and local farmers.”
After the market, head over to Lexie and Lee, a locally owned boutique that opened its Main Street doors in 2020. Here you’ll find a wonderful collection of vintage goods, clothing and gifts, like the luxurious skin-care products made from the locally owned Little Flower Field.
Just down the street, the light-filled Galleria offers businesses, shops and restaurants— all highlighted by a three-story atrium that runs the length of the building. Be sure to stop in Heritage Connection for glassware, art, pillows, jewelry, ties or Georgia’s who prepares gourmet subs and salads for the lunch crowd.
Even the guys will love shopping on Main Street, with stops like Pap’s Cigar Co. and L. Oppleman, which happens to be one of America’s oldest pawn shops. Though it just opened in 2019, Gentleman John’s Classic Barber Shop takes you back in time, with barbers wearing classic white jackets and Big Band Swing playing overhead.
“Main Street is such a fun place to visit because you can really spend the day here without ever getting in your car,” says Danielle Wallace, who originally started Lexie and Lee with her mom. “You can grab a coffee at The White Hart Cafe, hit the market, eat lunch, look at art and do lots of shopping … there’s such a diversity of things to do.”
After shopping, take a break and drink in Virginia’s burgeoning brewery scene at Starr Hill on Main. The second-oldest craft brewery in Virginia, Starr Hill has a great selection of seltzer and beer, including the specially made Main Street IPA.
When you’re ready for dinner, choose from a broad selection of Main Street restaurants that aim to please everyone in your party. Benny Scarpetta’s offers pizza by the slice, Aji Ramen & Sushi dishes up fresh Asian fare, and Dish serves late-night small plates. Main Street Sports Bar & Grill not only makes your favorite game-day snacks but also offers delicious seafood and hibachi. For an extraordinary setting in a restored historic building, reserve a table at Market at Main and tuck in for Southern comfort food. For dessert, head to Rolled Cold Creamery with handcrafted treats almost too pretty to eat — almost!
Finish the day with a performance at the Academy Center of the Arts. The spectacular historic theater plays host to five resident companies, including the opera, chorus, symphony, ballet and theater, as well as brings in national acts and traveling Broadway shows.
“Even when there’s not a show, our art galleries are open,” says Geoffrey Kershner, the Center‘s executive director. “It’s a great place to get a sense of what’s going on in arts and culture in Lynchburg.”
The Academy Center of the Arts, which originally opened in 1905, was later shuttered for 60 years. The building reopened in 2018 after a $30 million renovation. The jewel of downtown, the theater now offers state-of-the-art amenities with historic grandeur.
“Stepping inside is like stepping into a time capsule,” says Kershner. “It’s the past, but pristine.”
Come celebrate the soul of the city on Lynchburg’s Main Street. For Main Street accommodations, book your stay at the Lynchburg Grand Hotel.
Laura Lee is a Virginia-based freelance writer who loves to explore the state with her husband, two boys, and dog, Lillian.