After decades of calling the Historic Area “home,” Binns of Williamsburg found itself faced with a troubling conundrum in November 2017.
The owner of its leased location at 435 W. Duke of Gloucester St. in Merchants Square — Colonial Williamsburg — said Binns needed to leave.
And Binns initially had about two months to figure out its next move.
Since Binns of Williamsburg announced it was moving to a location in James City County in July 2018, much mystery has surrounded the departure of the nine-decade tenant in Colonial Williamsburg.
Binns was founded in 1925 and calls itself the most exclusive fashion store in the Historic Triangle.
Binns Vice President and head buyer Thomas Smith said Colonial Williamsburg never gave a clear reason why they were not renewing the lease — they only sent a letter Nov. 20, 2017 with the subject “Notice of Non-Renewal of Retail Lease.”
“Colonial Williamsburg was not transparent about their intentions,” Smith said. “It’s not against the law, but it’s poor business ethics.”
The letter reads: “After nearly one year of discussions with you regarding the potential renewal of the above-referenced Lease for Binns Fashion Shop in Merchants Square … the Lease will not be renewed by Colonial Williamsburg.”
Smith said Colonial Williamsburg “made it clear they had no interest in renewing a lease with Binns at any price.”
“Binns vacated the space 435 W. Duke of Gloucester St. in August 2018,” Colonial Williamsburg Vice President of Real Estate Jeff Duncan wrote through a foundation spokesman Wednesday. “Colonial Williamsburg does not comment on lease negotiations or discussions with tenants.”
Binns was first opened by Arabella Binns in 1925 in Colonial Williamsburg, but not originally in Merchants Square.
Binns moved into the care of Smith and his siblings in 1991 when the owner at the time fell terminally ill and died. Smith’s family is also related to Arabella Binns, and his mother Janice Hogg Smith was the general manager of Binns.
Since then, Binns has planned various community events, including a Merchants Square art display to celebrate Israeli culture in March 2018.
Smith has been outspoken about Colonial Williamsburg and Merchants Square matters and politics, asking many questions about economic and political matters.
“I’ve always been the young rebel in the square,” Smith said.
Binns was in the process of renewing its lease and had hired architects to make changes to the building when it received the notice of non-renewal in November 2017, Smith said.
WYDaily obtained copies of letters sent by Colonial Williamsburg to Binns owners in August, September and October 2017 indicating month-to-month lease extensions “while the parties finalize a longer-term lease.”
In November, the letter of non-renewal was sent by Duncan to Binns President Kimberly Jones, Smith’s sister.
Binns received a similar notice of non-renewal in 2015, but Smith said he called and spoke with 11 of the 14 members of Colonial Williamsburg’s Board of Trustees. He was able to get the business a two-year extension.
Binns then hired a law firm Dec. 1 to help “untangle” their decades-long relationship with Colonial Williamsburg, spending “tens of thousands” of dollars in attorney fees.
Binns was able to negotiate an extension for its lease until fall 2018, but was unable to publicly announce the move until July because of separation agreements with Colonial Williamsburg.
Binns did not choose to leave Colonial Williamsburg, but the change has proven to be “beneficial,” Smith said.
While Smith said Williamsburg is a large part of Binns’ identity — “Williamsburg” is in its name — the new 11,000-square-foot location in WindsorMeade Marketplace is a fresh and positive change.
Binns is able to save about 25 or 30 percent of the total rent it paid annually in Colonial Williamsburg by moving to its new location, Smith said.
“I moved, I’m settled and we’re happy,” he added.
As far as the former Binns location at 435 Duke of Gloucester St., there are two new businesses slated to move in.
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Illycaffè has been announced as one tenant for a portion of the space. The other tenant, an unnamed “retail concept” will occupy about 13,000 square feet of the Binns space.