Basketball Team Huddle
The future is uncertain for the former Woods Creek Grocery and Cafe, which was built in 1922.
Photo by Kelly Mae Ross

Neighbors across the street say they bought the property in order to stop the loud live music that came from the eatery

Woods Creek Grocery and Café remains closed after local couple Michael and Suanne Kopald bought the building in January. The Kopalds have lived across the street from the Woods Creek building for 25 years, but for the past two years, they said, living in such close proximity to the restaurant was literally giving them headaches.

It was towards the end of the summer of 2009 that the live outdoor music played at Woods Creek Grocery and Café became a nuisance for the Kopalds.  Michael Kopald said that he and his wife decided to buy the property after the fall of 2010 in the interest of “peace and quiet and comfort,” but that he didn’t have the stomach to deal with the turmoil that followed the sale.

Music comes to “The Creek”

A year after she purchased the then-vacant building at 411 Lime Kiln Road and reopened it as “Woods Creek Grocery and Café,” Debbie Merklinger decided to book musicians and bands to play at her restaurant.  At first, Merklinger had artists play inside of the café building, but she said that the indoor music didn’t really catch on and she decided to have the musicians play outside on Friday nights.

Friday night music at “The Creek” caught on, and Merklinger said that she received no complaints about the volume of the outdoor music during that summer.  In fact, she said that the first time there was any trouble with the neighbors regarding the music was when her husband, Jeff, booked a band with drums to play in the fall of 2010.  Prior to this booking, bands with drums had never played at the café.

The next time that there was trouble was when musician Andy Williams played outside under a large tent that had been pitched next to the café.  During the performance, Michael Kopald said that he called the police station in order to inquire about possible city regulations regarding loud outdoor concerts in residential areas.  There were no officers at the station available to field Kopald’s call, so the police dispatcher sent an officer to the Kopald residence.  Kopald and the officer talked for about 15 minutes before the officer decided, of his own accord, that he needed to go to the café and tell the band to turn down the music.

The last band to perform outside at “The Creek” was The Guy Smiley Blues Exchange, whose founding member is Graham Spice, audio engineer and technology coordinator for the Music Department at Washington and Lee.  The band performed at the café’s Halloween party on Saturday, Oct. 30.

Suanne Kopald said that she and her husband were trying to watch Avatar that night, but that they could hear the music loud and clear even though they had the windows closed, the air conditioning on, and were using surround sound.  Michael Kopald called Merklinger, but when the music continued he resorted to calling the police.

A $165,000 “solution”

Soon after the Halloween party incident, the Kopalds decided to see if the Merklingers would be interested in selling the Woods Creek Grocery and Café property.  On Dec. 28, real estate agent Melissa Holland approached Debbie Merklinger about a sale and an interested Merklinger suggested a price of $165,000 for the building.  The Kopalds agreed to the price and told Holland to proceed with the drawing up of the contract and the sale process, but told her that they wanted to remain as anonymous buyers throughout the whole process.

Holland delivered the contract to Merklinger on Jan. 5 and informed her that she had 24 hours to respond to the offer.  Merklinger agreed to the contract and to the anonymous buyer’s request that the building be vacated by Jan. 14, just nine days after the contract was delivered.

When she later learned that it was the Kopalds who had purchased the property, Merklinger said she cried for half an hour.

What lies ahead

The new owners say that they are unsure at this time what the future holds for the little building located at 411 Lime Kiln Road.  The Kopalds, both professional artists, thought about turning the building into a gallery, but realized that the building, in its current state, would not be conducive to running a successful gallery.

“We want to do something that will be nice for the neighborhood,” said Michael Kopald, a W&L alum and resident of Lexington for over 30 years.

As for Merklinger, she said that she has recently discussed with her husband what the next step in her life will be now that the café has been sold.  The mother of three said that she has considered going back to school to earn a graduate degree, but that she also wants to make sure that she has a sufficient amount of time to spend with her children, the youngest of whom is four years old.

Produced by Washington and Lee digital journalism students.