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When Bob Deramo first moved into Riverwalk Landing, he did not know anything about retail and he did not like ice cream.
Ten years later, with a line snaking out the door of his independently owned Ben & Jerry’s at the corner of Buckner and Water streets and every table filled with happy customers, Deramo reflects on his decision to move to the Yorktown Waterfront and open an ice cream parlor.
“It’s a destination where people come to,” he said of Riverwalk Landing, which is owned by York County and was built in 2005 to give locals and visitors alike a place to shop, eat, gather and play with a beautiful view.
Originally intending to open a pizza-by-the-slice restaurant, Deramo opened one of the first Ben & Jerry’s shops in the nation, gave it a unique design and watched it — and the high school students he hired — grow.
Every year on Riverwalk Landing is different for Deramo and the other tenants on the waterfront, whose businesses feel the effects when the weather turns cold and visitors stop by less frequently.
But they make up for it in the summer, when hundreds of people come to enjoy the beach, the concerts put on by York County and the various shops and restaurants that make up Riverwalk Landing.
“People come here for a good time,” Deramo said.
For Master Goldsmith Hank Viccellio, opening a store on Riverwalk Landing 10 years ago was a lifestyle choice.
“I just wanted to find some beautiful little place that I could own a business and stay for like 20 or 30 years,” he said. “This is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.”
Working in shorts and flip-flops with his silver Vespa parked outside, he is at ease in his shop, which sits across from the Carrot Tree restaurant.
Viccellio and his wife Leslie, who live about a mile from their store, have seen neighboring tenants come and go over the years but both agree Riverwalk Landing as it stands today is the “best it’s ever been.”
“It’s a good mix of tenants, everyone is kind of working together and pulling for each other,” Leslie Viccellio said.
“There’s a real sense of community,” Hank Viccellio adds, expressing his gratitude to York County for investing in the waterfront community.
Planning and design for the waterfront development began long before 2005, when more than 100 people participated in a charrette to figure out what should be done on the waterfront.
“The gist of it was, you had all these citizens and county officials and so on that came together and did this,” said Rick Moberg, the York County Economic Development Authority chairman who helped design Riverwalk Landing.
At the time, visitors coming to the Yorktown Waterfront were limited in what they could see and do — the only restaurants around were the Yorktown Pub and Nick’s Seafood Restaurant — so the county wanted citizens’ input on how to bring shopping, dining and entertainment to the waterfront while keeping with the village-like beach feel.
Ten years later, Riverwalk Landing has become a destination hub for both tourists and locals, with large, unique events like the arrival of the French ship Hermione and annual activities like Shagging on the Riverwalk contributing to York County’s economy.
“If this project hadn’t been there, you wouldn’t have ports like that for these events,” Moberg said.
Moberg said he is pleased with the current collection of tenants that occupy Riverwalk Landing, adding the waterfront development has “finally reached a pretty good point of stabilization.”
He pointed out an ongoing issue at Riverwalk Landing has been parking, and several of the tenants agree with him.
The development’s 270-space parking deck fills up quickly during the summer, and visitors are often forced to park in some of the smaller parking lots farther away from the beach.
“There’s been a lot of plans on the table [to improve parking,]” Moberg said, explaining the county looked into paid parking and parking passes. “We just haven’t been able to really come to a resolve on what the best thing is.”
Vicki Bristow, the owner of the 10-year-old Yorktown Onion, said despite the parking issues, the county has worked hard to make life for Riverwalk Landing’s tenants as pleasant as possible.
“I think right now, it’s much more stable. The county has a very clear vision of the level of professionals, the standard they want down there. They are always trying to make it a better experience for the people,” she said.
Bristow, Viccellio and Deramo all agree a big contributor to the success of Riverwalk Landing is Mario Buffa, the owner of Riverwalk Restaurant and Water Street Grille.
Buffa, a longtime restaurant owner who grew up in Gloucester, took over Riverwalk Restaurant in December 2012 and opened Water Street Grille — formerly Stars and Stripes — next door in June 2013.
“I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into,” he said, laughing. “I just knew that Riverwalk Landing was needing more than just what Riverwalk Restaurant could offer up and needed more casual dining.”
Upon taking over, Buffa changed the menu to offer more seafood, built a patio on the back of Water Street Grille and solicited feedback from both restaurant employees and guests to ensure his two restaurants offered the best dining experience.
“At the end of the day, I just found, in my mind, little incremental differences that have really paid off,” he said.
Buffa attributed the lively, dynamic atmosphere surrounding his two restaurants to the county, saying county officials have been amiable to helping Riverwalk Landing tenants and have contributed to the two restaurants’ success by continually holding concerts, festivals and events in front of his businesses.
“It’s just a sexy place to come,” he said of Riverwalk Landing. “It’s just an amazing place to be, it really is. You can’t appreciate it until you’re literally here.”