Thursday, July 20, 2017  

Q&A with Shawn Donahue
Kilmarnock businessman

Shawn Donahue came to Kilmarnock without the intention to acquire such a large presence. It all started as a vacation spot away from the fast pace of Northern Virginia. Once he was here, he quickly saw business opportunities arise, and took them. Now, if you have been to downtown Kilmarnock recently, along Main Street, you have likely visited one of his many shops or restaurants.

When talking with Mr. Donahue I tried to gain a better understanding of what brought him to where he is today and what he intends to do in the future.

How did you end up in Lancaster County?

About fifteen years ago my wife and I bought a home in Lancaster and were weekenders for the first nine years. About six years ago, we moved down here permanently.

What type of business were you in while living in Northern Virginia?

In Northern Virginia I worked as a commercial real estate broker.

Once you moved down here, what was the first business that you opened?

When I came down here I started working in residential rentals. I bought existing apartments and homes and built new ones along the way.

What companies do you currently own and operate?

All of my companies are split into three larger companies; real estate and construction, hospitality, and retail. My real estate and construction companies fall under Donahue Properties which is a holding company for commercial and residential real estate. Under this I have Bay Meadows Real Estate, Breezewood Construction, and Mod-U-Kraft. My hospitality company, Pineapple Group LLC, is over Buenos Nachos, Talk of the Town Coffee, Kilmarnock Entertainment Center, the Kilmarnock Inn, and soon an eighty-room hotel in downtown Kilmarnock. Under my retail company is the Kilmarnock Toy Store, Heart of the Shepard Christian Book Store, Kilmarnock Christmas House, Presents with Presence and the Kilmarnock Furniture Store.

With so many companies, how do you manage all of them?

I am active in all of my companies, but have been very successful in empowering my managers and allowing them to operate as if the store is their own. I also have a person in charge of each of my three business areas (real estate and construction, hospitality, and retail) to oversee the stores and report back to me.

How many people do your companies employ?

Right now I employee just over 100 employees. By the end of this year (2008), I should have approximately 225 employees with all the new companies I am starting.

What was the first commercial property that you bought in Kilmarnock?

The first commercial property that I bought and restored was in 2002. It is the building that now houses the Kilmarnock Toy Store. This building was built in the 1860s and was originally the old fire house. Now it is the Toy Store on the first floor with luxury apartments above it.

How have you been able to gain such a vast portfolio of businesses?

Several of the companies that I have acquired were the result of previous owners being ready to retire, but not wanting to close their doors to the public. In these circumstances the owners contacted me and asked that I buy their businesses. Other businesses started as I saw a need in the community.

I know that recently Kilmarnock has worked with the Main Street Program to revitalize the downtown shopping district. Did you play an active role in this project?

When the whole revitalization project really took flight, the former mayor, Mike Robertson, asked me to sit on the board that oversaw the project. It was also during this time that I renovated one of my larger buildings downtown that houses Talk of the Town Coffee, the Kilmarnock Furniture Store, and Buenos Nachos.

Kilmarnock has been hugely successful in their revitalization efforts. What do you think led to this success?

I think that one of the largest reasons Kilmarnock?s revitalization efforts were so successful is because they were willing to hire someone full time to make sure the project stayed on track. When town councils try to do it all by themselves, the projects can often go to the wayside when other problems arise. By hiring someone full time to work solely on this project, it kept everyone involved focused on the project. This person was hired and financed by the town and directed by the Main Street Project board.

What is it that you think leads to successful downtown shopping areas?

I think that we all benefit from saving our downtowns. In so many larger cities the downtowns have a tendency to look like shopping malls with so many national chains that the downtown area loses a lot of its charm. The secret to having a good downtown shopping district is to have crosspollination. Each business should compliment another and be unique. It is not necessary to have many of the same businesses on one street. For example, if a couple from out of town comes in they can stay at my new inn, which is opening this Spring, then go across the street to the Kilmarnock Toy Store and get something for their children on their way to dinner at Buenos Nachos. Each of these shops is within one block of the other.

How do you feel that your businesses have benefited Kilmarnock?

When I first came to Lancaster I saw that there were not a lot of good career opportunities for middle class workers. There were jobs, but most stores had owner-managers. This left many talented individuals without the start-up capital unable to serve in any position besides clerk. I feel that my businesses have given the youth an opportunity to stay in the community and excel in full-time management positions. My wife and I believe this is so important for the area that we have started a 501c3, the Kilmarnock Foundation. The goal of the Kilmarnock Foundation is to teach youth on the Northern Neck the skills necessary to be an entrepreneur and give them opportunities to develop those skills.

What other businesses are you currently working on opening?

As I mentioned earlier, I am working on two accommodations facilities. The first being a national chain hotel, with eighty guest rooms, that I will bring to the downtown area. The second, which will be opening this Spring, is the Kilmarnock Inn. This will feature a main guest house and seven guest cottages. All of the facilities will be named after Virginia-born presidents. The main house will be named after President Woodrow Wilson and will be designed to resemble the White House during his term as president. The seven guest cottages will be named after Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Tyler, Taylor, Monroe, and Harrison. Breezewood Construction is building the guest houses offsite and bringing in the finished cottage. The main house is an older home in the community that I am renovating. Once the Inn is completed it will have sixteen guest rooms.

Do you have any plans to bring other businesses to the area?

I have several more business opportunities that I will be pursuing. One in particular that will be coming to fruition in the near future is the Kilmarnock Entertainment Center. The Entertainment Center will open in January 2009 and will house a bowling alley, billiards, arcade, a children?s play center, and a room suitable for birthday parties and such. Additionally, there will be an upscale open-flame, brick-oven restaurant. This restaurant will feature specialty pizzas and other dishes.