Bluemont’s E.E. Lake Store: Past, Present, and Future

January 8, 2009

By Susan Freis Falknor

In its early 1900s’ heyday, the E.E. Lake Store was home to several different enterprises—a general store, a barbershop, a bank, the post office, and a meeting and dance hall upstairs—a variety of uses that might put a modern day shopping mall to shame.  Built around 1901, the oversized store building with  its cream-colored stucco, light green trim, and plate glass windows displaying antique items still dominates Bluemont village today.

That the Lake Store is still standing and enjoys any prospect of a future is due to the decades-long, dedicated efforts of the Bluemont Citizens Association (BCA) and its Lake Store Committee, guided by Bluemonter Anne Plaster.

Loudoun County owns the E.E. Lake Store.  Its last private owner Robert Higgins purchased it with the hope of renovating it, but under the regulations of the time he could not get permits for water and septic.  Higgins never opened the Lake Store for business, but he always opened it up for the Bluemont Fair, recalls Anne Plaster.

Then, in the early 1990s Higgins offered the place to BCA for $1, intending to obtain a tax deduction on its value.  But BCA is not organized as a public charity (its mission being to benefit a particular community, that is, Bluemont) and, therefore, could not accept tax-deductible property donations under federal IRS regulations.

BCA then began to explore with the county a possible partnership that could save the Lake Store.  Eventually the two parties struck a deal. Loudoun County, which does possess an affiliated 501(c) 3 entity, would take formal ownership of the Lake Store. BCA would manage the property.

“This exact arrangement had never been done before,” said Anne Plaster.  “But the Board of Supervisors did have an interest in historic preservation, and we argued that if we did not move ahead, the building would fall down.”

The Lake Store project got a boost from a new Federal/state transportation grants program.  Among their eligible “transportation” projects, these grants covered projects to develop  tourist destinations. Jim Comfort  of the Loudoun Recreation and Parks Department realized there was an opportunity and suggested applying.  Working with the county, Anne Plaster recalls, the Lake Store Committee put together the required “highly complex proposal” and won $20,000.00.

That initial grant and additional public and private smaller grants, enabled BCA and the county to get the Lake Store cleaned up and painted, to do some stucco repair work, and to put on a new roof.  All this bought the historic structure some time. BCA funded improvements to the electrical system and took charge of routine maintenance tasks, such as having the lawn mowed, planting the flower barrels, and arranging for benches on the front porch.  The E.E. Lake Store continued to serve as a centerpiece for the Bluemont Fair.  However, without major systems like heat, air conditioning, plumbing, and septic -- the store could not fill the role of a multi-purpose community building and local historic attraction.  It continues, however, to act as an anchor for the Bluemont Fair.

In more recent years BCA has continued to work with Loudoun County on fundraising.  With a wide range of support, including that of county supervisors Eleanore Towe and Jim Burton, the Lake Store-Loudoun County partnership obtained  first one and then a second $250,000 transportation grant.  The Lake Store Committee is now working with the county Department of Building and Development on planning plumbing and heat/air conditioning systems.

The next step for the Lake Store Committee is to help obtain matching funds for the most recent ICT grant, according to Anne Plaster.

“We have been at it a long time and it is sometimes quite frustrating, but I am sure that the E. E. Lake Store will happen, eventually, Anne Plaster remarks.  “We are a unique tourist destination, with many visitors in spring, summer, and fall—bicycle and motorcycle as well as by car, and even hikers from the Appalachian Trail.”

“Bluemont is, after all, as one fellow from Park and Recreation put it, ‘the Gateway to Western Loudoun.’”