HAMPTON — As Kara Forbes Copley was planning her wedding, she created a long list of possible venues. Then she and her fiancé, KC, visited their first candidate: an old post office in downtown.
The Chesapeake couple instantly fell in love with the 1914 building, especially its grand stone exteriors and staircase. On April 27, with 115 guests on hand, Kara and KC held their ceremony and reception in a place that once likely processed hundreds of wedding and social invitations every day.
“The historic look just made it so different,” Kara Copley says. “It’s also kind of a blank slate with the white walls, dark wood floors and natural light inside. You can easily dress it up or you don’t even have to decorate at all. It’s already so beautiful.”
After years of revolving business uses, vacancy and neglect, the historic Hampton Post Office has sprung back to life. The East Queen Street landmark, open since January 2017 as an event venue, now is not only booked most weekends but two or three days during the week, says Kelsey Leeper, the venue’s manager.
With 2019 weekends filling up, Leeper already has booked four events for 2020.
“It has taken off even faster than we anticipated,” she says. “It’s attracting people who want something more intimate and unique than a typical spot like a hotel. It has a lot of character.”
Rich history, checkered past
The post office is hosting about 130 events a year, surpassing the original goal of 75 for its first years, Leeper says. Weddings make up 60 to 70 percent of events, but the variety is growing: corporate cocktail parties, nonprofit fundraisers, fashion shows, balls, a seminar on women in technology, the Tabb High School prom.
The building was designed during the Beaux-Arts architectural period, marked by a classical style with formal features such as columns and balconies to reflect wealth accumulated during the Industrial Revolution. During much of the 20th century, it operated as one of the region’s largest post offices. But by the mid-1980s, it had closed – and no one quite knew what to do with it.
There were two restaurants, a failed plan for a hotel and about 10 years of vacancy, which led to flood damage, rotting wood and mold. In 2013, the building sold at auction to become studio space for a company that films for television shows. Still, it often sat empty.
A brighter future
Then a leader of The Postman LLC, the building’s multi-company ownership group, attended a bridal show and had a new idea. That required a massive renovation, including stripping out old restaurant booths and a built-in bar, replacing worn hardwood floors and repainting dingy interior walls. Leeper, a former middle school teacher who did wedding planning on the side, took the manager position in 2016.
The old post office has capacity for 250 seated guests and 400 people for standing parties. Prices vary; the wedding package – from $3,600 on weeknights to $5,100 on Saturdays – includes decorative lighting and access to a caterer’s kitchen, a gated parking lot and separate bridal and groom suites, the former decorated in elegant pastels and the latter featuring a billiards table. Couples can add table, chair and linen rentals, valet parking and event security.
Leeper maintains lists of caterers and other preferred vendors, which she aims to keep as local as possible.
“Our goal has always been to boost the downtown area of Hampton and draw more people here,” she notes.
She’s busy trying to book more weekday events, from yoga classes to business retreats: “There’s really no limit to what we can do here.”