When Richmond Fire Department Engine 1 arrives at a fire, its three firefighters strive to save the burning building.

Now, during their time away from RFD, Tom Broyles, Nick Arbogast and Matt Baker work in a different way to save a building. The three formed Buddies on the Block LLC and are renovating a 33,465-square-foot building on North Eighth Street in the Depot District. They named the project the District Commons.

Nick Arbogast (right) and Matt Baker work on the exterior of the District Commons building on North Eighth Street. Supplied photo

“These buildings have all been kind of neglected over the years, and we just want to bring them back to life and make a place that people want to come to,” Broyles said.

Broyles owns Firehouse BBQ & Blues just up North Eighth Street. He said that renovation and the restaurant’s success helped spur investment and development in surrounding buildings, and he hopes the District Commons makes a similar impact.

“We really like this street, and we hope it spreads,” Broyles said. “We’d really like some good retail. We really think that that’s what the area needs.”

They’ve already made visible progress despite not purchasing the two-story building, which was built in 1880, until early April. According to county property records, they bought the building on the southeast corner of North Eighth and North E streets from Rick Parker for $200,000.

On the exterior, the red brick has been covered by white primer, and last week, Arbogast was painting the North E Street side a teal color. The plan is to paint each storefront a different color to look like different buildings. The corner storefront’s new entryway is also under construction.

Retired RFD Chief Jerry Purcell built a staircase that will provide private access to the wide-open second story. It’s another place a business could locate.

“We’re hoping that somebody might want to do something up there,” Broyles said. “Ultimately, I think we’d like to have condo apartments up there, but that’s a lot of money and down the road.” 

A Facebook page and YouTube channel enable the trio to share their progress during the renovation. 

Three of the four street-level storefronts are occupied by Hair Junction, BG Billiards and Rare Breed Fitness, so work prepares the fourth storefront on the highly visible corner for lease and on the exterior painting. 

“We’re hoping to find somebody who wants to have a cool location down here in the Depot District,” Broyles said.

He’s the Engine 1 lieutenant on C Shift, with Baker as the driver and Arbogast as the firefighter. Baker and Arbogast formed a company about six years ago and have worked together on a variety of projects. They now own a three-unit storefront in Ohio, Arbogast said. 

Broyles recruited them to help with the bigger Depot District project, and Arbogast said the project was appealing because it impacts an area important to them.

“Just trying to create a legacy project here with Tom and see where it goes,” Arbogast said.

White primer covers the entire North Eighth Street side of the District Commons project building on North Eighth Street. Photo by Mike Emery

The District Commons adds to the work done to reshape and resuscitate The Depot District.

“It’s got some momentum already,” Arbogast said of the area. “It’s just keep it going.”

The goal is to create an old-school feel where people visit to shop and grab lunch, seeing and conversing with friends and knowing shop owners and employees.

“We just want that neighborhood vibe,” Broyles said. “It’s just a better way to live; it’s better community. I really believe that. 

“I think people, whether they think they do or not, that’s what they want.”

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A version of this article appeared in the June 7 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Mike Emery is a reporter and layout editor for the Western Wayne News.