Star City Playhouse is relocating from Roanoke to 107 South Pollard Street in Vinton, near the corner of Washington Avenue and across Pollard from Vinton Motors.
The building is owned by Vinton attorney Bruce Mayer and most recently was home to Heritage Baptist Church. Star City Playhouse is owned by Marlow and Karon Semones Ferguson.
The first production by the community theater, a reading of Shakespeare’s love sonnets, is appropriately scheduled for February10-12, Valentine’s weekend. Auditions for the production are taking place this coming weekend on January 14 from 1 to 4 p.m. and on January 15 from 2 to 5 p.m.
For many years, the new Playhouse was the site of Gus Nicks Furniture Store.
Nicks is remembered as a beloved mayor of Vinton, although he was not originally from Vinton. He grew up on a farm in Yadkin County, N.C., but according to all accounts, from the time he arrived in Vinton, he was the town’s most vocal cheerleader.
Upon his untimely death in 1979, he was eulogized by a host of dignitaries. Among the remarks made about him was: “Gus Nicks was Vinton rolled into one man. He was honest, fair, and forthright— a one-man Chamber of Commerce.”
Another said, “There has never been a person who loved a community like Gus Nicks loved Vinton.”
In fact, he was nicknamed “Mr. Vinton.”
Nicks served many roles in his adopted community. He was elected to Town Council in 1950, and served as mayor from 1970 to 1979. He was president of the Vinton Lions Club and the Chamber of Commerce, Father of the Year in 1975 for the Roanoke Valley, and director of the Dogwood Festival, in addition to holding leadership roles at Vinton Baptist Church.
Right before he was to fulfill a dream and become the president of the Virginia Municipal League, he passed away in September of 1979.
Initially, he had planned a career in coaching and teaching. During his college years, he coached youth basketball teams. In fact, he almost became a professional baseball player with a minor league team as a pitcher and second baseman, but chose to attend college instead.
He met his wife, Lois Naff, who was from Virginia, while her father was a minister in North Carolina. In the mid-1940s, Naff’s father became pastor of South Roanoke Baptist Church.
Nicks was working for Reynolds Tobacco in Winston-Salem when his wife and a close friend talked him into moving to Roanoke and buying a small used furniture business in the mid-1940s.
Nicks sold that business and opened the Nicks Furniture and Appliance Co. in Vinton in 1947, on the corner of Maple Street and Lee Avenue.
“He sold unique pieces– really nice furniture that people kept all their lives and handed down to their children,” said longtime employee Sugar Meeks.
His routine was to travel to North Carolina to select and purchase the furniture inventory himself and haul it back to the store.
Nicks moved from Lee Avenue to the store on Pollard Street in the 1950s and increased his inventory. He was said to have “pondered a long time on whether to buy the bigger building, but eventually concluded that it would be a prime location on the ‘main drag’.”
“People came from all over to shop at the Gus Nicks Store, not just from Vinton,” said Meeks. “We were a big deal.”
Meeks also recalls that ladies from Appalachian Power Co. would come and do cooking demonstrations in the store, promoting their company and the featured GE appliances Nicks sold.
Mostly she recalls, “Everybody thought a lot of Gus; he worked hard and did a lot for people and for Vinton.”
Nicks’ daughter Nancy Bucklin recalls that the store on Pollard was “new, modern, and large. There was one floor with no wall divisions, which made it adaptable to numerous and various displays. The large windows in front of the store helped in showcasing items. Awnings were needed to protect the furniture from too much sunlight.
“My father held the opinion that the customer always came first, and was very accommodating to his customers,” said Bucklin. “He would always try to make it possible for someone to buy the item that they wanted by giving them very flexible and low rates of payment. He was often rewarded with gifts of homemade biscuits, jars of honey with the combs in them, homegrown tomatoes, corn on the cob, strings beans, and wonderful country ham. My father was a good cook, and would fry that country ham and make red eye gravy with it– delicious!”
Bucklin recalls that her father later owned two buildings next to 107 Pollard toward Washington Avenue that are no longer there. A newspaper article from the time says that in 1967, he purchased a two-story frame building next door to his store, which contained two apartments and three businesses, the H&K Barber Shop, W.W Beveridge Insurance Co., and Stylette Beauty Salon.
She says, “My father worked very hard all his life in every way. He loved and appreciated the gift of life, had a magnetic personality, cared about people, and gave his best.”
Bucklin said her father maintained a furniture business until he died, the last in a house on what is now Gus Nicks Boulevard, but his priority by then was “being mayor of Vinton. He just loved the people of Vinton and being their mayor.”
In recent years, façade improvements have been made to the Pollard Street building. Vinton Assistant Town Manager Richard “Pete” Peters notes that funding came from the Community Development Block Grant received by the Town of Vinton from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development.
The brick façades on the front and side elevations were cleaned “per Historic Masonry guidance.” The masonry was “repointed” with Historic Masonry guidance and by architect’s selection. Mortar and bricks were repaired from damage from previous sign installations, vandalism, etc. Five blue awnings and the five original windows were removed from the side of the building. Two original windows were removed from the rear of the building as well. The side and rear windows were replaced with a new commercial aluminum-framed window system, with bricks cut plumb and aligned with the existing openings, using clear anodized glass.
Improvements also included providing screening of the rooftop HVAC condenser, fabricated and constructed locally from tube steel. Total improvements to 107 South Pollard amounted to $18,108 with the CDBG grant covering $9,054 and the property owner contributing a 50 percent match.
A new awning was also installed on the front of the building not covered by the façade grant funds.
The playhouse is set to join what is becoming a thriving downtown with the new Twin Creeks Brewery located in the same block on Pollard.
The readings of Shakespeare’s sonnets in honor of Valentine’s Day weekend are scheduled for Friday, Feb. 10 at 7 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 11 at 2 p.m., and Sunday, Feb. 12 at 2. Tickets are $6. Reservations may be made by calling 366-1446. More information about auditions is also available by calling that same number.
Parking for all downtown events is available on the streets, at Vinton Baptist, in the Municipal Parking lots, at the Farmers’ Market, and at Vinton Motors (for certain approved events).