BERRYVILLE — After nearly a decade in business, the Fire House Gallery will close on Sept. 30.

Berryville Main Street operates the gallery at 23 E. Main St. The nonprofit organization is closing the gallery to “focus all its attention on promoting and supporting downtown business and the town,” board President Nathan Stalvey wrote in a news release.

“By closing the gallery,” Stalvey wrote, “board members and Berryville Main Street volunteers can put all its energy into projects and events, with the continued support of the town of Berryville.”

“We won’t have to worry about running a business while trying to promote other businesses,” he continued.

Berryville Main Street’s website could not be accessed Tuesday afternoon, and its phone was not answered. According to a recorded message on its answering machine, the gallery is open only on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Stalvey did not return calls seeking comment.

The gallery, which opened in January 2010, was designed to be a place where works by area artisans could be purchased. It also has provided incubator space for small businesses.

Berryville Main Street organizes special events such as a community yard sale held on the second Saturday of April and December, as well as the Summer’s End Cruise-In, which will be held from 4-7 p.m. Aug. 24. The latter event, which features displays of antique and classic cars, is designed to lure people downtown to shop and dine.

“They’ve certainly worked hard” to make downtown more vibrant, Town Manger Keith Dalton said of the organization.

However, “it’s never quite gotten the traction that it’s needed to meet all of its objectives,” he said. He pointed out that Berryville Main Street is comprised only of part-time employees and volunteers, and organizations in such a situation sometimes have trouble maintaining any momentum they obtain.

Berryville Main Street’s goal is to attract people to downtown and “improve the arts scene in Berryville and Clarke County,” Dalton said.

“It appears they’re going to work on fulfilling their core mission,” he said in response to the announcement about Fire House Gallery closing.

Stalvey wrote in the release that the organization appreciates all of the volunteers and employees who have worked in the gallery over the years, as well as the many artisans who have allowed the gallery to sell and promote their works.

Berryville Main Street has been in the news lately as its former board member and interim executive director, Christian Miles Bentley, faced felony and misdemeanor embezzlement charges pertaining to $4,874 stolen from the organization. In Clarke County Circuit Court on Monday, Bentley pleaded no contest to the charges, which is regarded by the courts as a conviction. He was ordered to pay the money back, perform 50 hours of community service and maintain good behavior for a year. If he complies with the terms of his plea bargain, the felony embezzlement charge will be changed to a misdemeanor, he will receive a one-year suspended sentence and the existing misdemeanor charge will be dropped.

The Fire House Gallery’s closing is unrelated to Bentley’s court case, according to Kim Ragland, the organization’s treasurer.

The gallery is in a historic, two-story former fire station owned by the town and rented to Downtown Berryville Inc., the legal name of Berryville Main Street.

Dalton said the organization wants to use the building’s second floor as its offices. He said the town fill try to find a new tenant for the first floor, where the gallery is located, but it has no prospective tenants right now.

Berryville Main Street is one of 29 organizations affiliated with the Main Street program established by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The program, managed by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, provides localities help in increasing the economic vitality of their commercial districts by focusing on their unique heritages and attributes.

— Contact Mickey Powell at mpowell@winchesterstar.com

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