Shawn Donahue is bullish on Kilmarnock

If Kilmarnock businesses were a Wall Street stock, traders might be shorting it about now. Main Street has been torn up for months and Wal-Mart is coming. Things might look bleak to some, but Kilmarnock businessman Shawn Donahue is still bullish on the town.

Shawn Donahue plans to open a Mexican restaurant, among other Kilmarnock businesses, later this year.


“This is the hub of the Northern Neck. This is where people want to come,” he said in an interview with the Northern Neck Buyers Guide.

Shawn isn’t some Pollyanna who is oblivious to the negatives. He concedes they exist, and as owner of the Kilmarnock Toy Store and Kilmarnock Christmas Shop, he has to overcome them like everyone else.

“It’s been a tough time lately, there’s no question about it,” he said.

“Merchants on Main Street have been hit pretty hard by the disruptive effects of the Main Street renovation project. Then to have Wal-Mart come in on top of that? It’s tough.”

But Shawn continues to see Kilmarnock as an excellent environment for small businesses, and is plowing ahead with plans for a number of new ventures. He says the town’s business community can prosper, if it remains true to its roots.

“I think the Kilmarnock business community will get stronger with the addition of more locally owned small shops and businesses. It’s a quaint atmosphere and we need to work hard to keep that quality. We want to remain a unique town, not be a ‘me-too’ community,” he said.

One way to do that, he says, is to keep franchises out of the newly renovated downtown section, channeling them instead to the area that will inevitably develop around Wal-Mart. That leaves the downtown area for small, locally owned businesses that he sees as key to keeping Kilmarnock’s unique flavor. And Shawn has a few already in mind.

In June, once the Main Street project is complete, he plans to open Nacho Mammas, a Mexican theme restaurant at on South Main Street, in a building that once housed Crowther Ford. The restaurant will not only feature Mexican food, but create a Latin pop atmosphere.

“We plan to have a display of Carlos Santana memorabilia. We’ve purchased, among other things, one of his signed guitars, which will be on display,” Shawn said.

Sharing the building will be a Bassett Furniture showroom and a coffee shop.

At the other end of Main Street, at the intersection of First Avenue, Shawn is constructing Main Street Centre, a two story office and retail complex. Though he is leasing space, he’s reserved enough for himself to open a California style pizza restaurant.

Meanwhile, Shawn plans to construct a Victorian style “village” of small retail shops around his Christmas Shop on South Main. He will lease some space and use some for his own business ventures. He even plans to build a hotel one day.

“I know people think I go around trying to buy up property, but it doesn’t work that way. Lately, property owners who like what I’ve done with other developments have approached me about buying,” Shawn said.

Shawn hopes to have many of his new ventures up and running before Wal-Mart opens its doors, and believes that with planning, smarts and lots of energy, he and other Kilmarnock merchants can not only survive, but thrive in the post Wal-Mart environment.