In early 2023, Gearharts Fine Chocolates closed its location on Libbie Avenue in western Richmond after 13 years. The Charlottesville-based chocolatier said at the time it was looking to open a “bigger and better” shop in the area similar to its hometown operation.
Well, it found it. And just in time for Valentine’s Day.
Gearharts plans to reopen next month at 11301 W. Broad St. in a 1,400-square-foot space — roughly twice the size of its old Libbie location — in tony Short Pump shopping center in the Henrico County suburbs of the city.
“We found a great little spot in Short Pump. It’s the right square footage, a good demographic and had a lot of things that our Libbie store didn’t have, like parking and easy access,” Tim Gearhart, who founded the chocolate shop that bears his name in 2001 with partner Bill Hamilton, told The Daily Progress. “The stars are aligned. We really liked it and could really envision the next phase of Gearharts in Richmond.”
But the timeline for the move is “going to be tight.”
While the new Short Pump shop is in a space vacated by Frostings Bake Shop, which catered to a similar clientele, Gearharts wanted to bring the space up to its standards. The Richmond location, with similar design elements as the Charlottesville shop, will also include a cafe with seating for 18. Construction is underway, but Valentine’s Day is less than six weeks away.
“We want to bring something that is not something that’s already there,” Gearhart said. “We’re going to want to put our spin on it, no matter what we do. We have a knack of creating things that people may not find in other places.”
Most of the production for the chocolates sold in Richmond will continue to take place in Charlottesville, with shipments running out to the capital once or twice a week, as was the practice with the Libbie location, Gearhart said. Gearharts, more than a chocolate shop, also offers pastries, and its owners plan for the Short Pump location to have a full-scale bakery that can produce most of its baked goods, including triple decadent brownies, chocolate chip cookies and flourless chocolate torts. More complicated recipes, such as croissants and pains au chocolat, which require more equipment and temperature monitoring, will still be baked in Charlottesville.
Gearhart and Hamilton said they have no other real estate plans at present. Reopening in Richmond was an easy call, Gearhart said, because he feels there’s “such natural synergy between Charlottesville and Richmond.”
Gearhart said that they would consider another location in another city if it was a similarly good match.
“If we can find places like that, then we would consider it, but we spend a lot of time these days working on our internet business, and our corporate sales and gifting continue to grow,” said Gearhart.
The chocolatiers are also busy with Gearharts’ sister brand, James River Chocolate Company, which launched in 2022 with its own line of chocolate bark and potato chip chocolate bars.
“It’s a very Virginia-centric line of chocolate,” Gearhart said of the sister brand. “It doesn’t quite fit in with Gearharts, but we still think there’s an interest and market for these things.”
There certainly appears to be an interest and market. Gearharts just wrapped up its “best year ever” in 2023 after more than two decades of business, according to Gearhart.
“The hard part is not to forget what set us apart 20 year ago, but finding ways to continue to stand out and be innovative,” he said. “It’s important to me and Bill to keep having our own spin and not chase trends, but be more of a leader.”
Gearharts operates out of the Vinegar Hill Shopping Center in downtown Charlottesville. For those not in Charlottesville or Richmond, the company’s chocolates are sold in roughly 75 other locations in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.