The dish on LaDiff: why the well-known store left Short Pump

When people found out that LaDifférence would be leaving their Short Pump location after only one year, people wondered if the area was as fruitful for business as commonly thought. Why exactly did LaDiff leave, and how have other ventures have fared west of Richmond

News of LaDifférence closing its Short Pump location last week caused a lot of speculation. Why did it last only one year? Was the downtown location closing too? How could Short Pump not financially support the contemporary home furnishings store?

“We went into it with no preconceived notions,” said Andy Thornton, co-owner of LaDifférence on establishing a second, smaller store outside of the city. Viewing the opening of a satellite store in the ever-developing Short Pump area was thought of as “an experiment” for the business, one that has owned and operated their downtown location for twenty years. Thornton is very complimentary of the ongoing West Broad Village development. “They’ve done a good job,” said Thornton. Looking to try something different about a year ago, Thornton and his colleagues thought “lets give them a shot.”

Eager to expand with one of Richmond’s most well-known stores, West Broad Village provided LaDifférence with a rare, one-year lease. “They were very nice, very accommodating,” said Thornton of his experience with the community that hopes to further house retail and residential properties in the Short Pump area.

The goal for LaDifférence was to give people who found downtown Richmond inconvenient a “taste” of what the home furnishings store provided. The owners also hoped that the satellite store would drive further traffic to the flagship Shockoe Bottom location that is six-times the size of the Short Pump store.

Although Thornton, who owns LaDifférence with his wife, Sarah Paxton, said that while the Short Pump store experienced “decent traffic and sales,” they found that most West Broad Village customers wanted to see the larger downtown store anyway. While the results fell short for LaDifférence, another satellite location that stems from a Richmond proper venue has experienced unexpected success.

Opened in June 2010, the Children’s Museum of Richmond Short Pump location at West Broad Village was the first Children’s museum satellite to open in the entire country. “It’s been wildly successful,” said Karen Coltrane, CEO of the Children’s Museum of Richmond. “Our visitation out here has blown our socks off.”

While certain aspects of the Short Pump location were not as successful as anticipated, such as gift shop purchases and the child “drop-off” program in which parents could place their children in the care of Museum attendants, Coltrane said that, overall, “the community has embraced what we bring…it’s a great place to be.” Although the Children’s Museum and LaDifférence cater to different demographics Thornton nonetheless shares Coltrane’s sentiments about the Short Pump community.

“I think West Broad Village will be a success,” said Andy Thornton. “I think it’s an interesting and novel idea.” Although the LaDifférence store in Short Pump made self-sustaining money in its only year at West Broad Village, the heart of LaDifférence, and of Thornton and his wife, beats in downtown Richmond.

Not only do Thornton and his wife have financial ties to downtown Richmond and their Shockoe store, they also have an emotional tie. He and his wife are particularly interested in the newly created Shockoe Design District. “I really dig where we’re going,” he said, speaking about how he feels the city is on the cusp of breaking out. “We want to be an important part” of further downtown development, he said. “That’s the exciting stuff.”

While Thornton and LaDifférence have no issues with Short Pump or the West Broad Village development community, it just couldn’t compete with the history and love that they have with downtown Richmond.

LaDifférence is now having a “liquidation celebration,” in which savings as much as 70% can be had at both the Downtown and Short Pump locations through Sunday.


photo by jeffweese

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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