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The Refinery named Culpeper's Entrepreneur of the Year
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The Refinery named Culpeper's Entrepreneur of the Year

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Joy Orr and her comrades bring a lot of joy to people, and manage to do so in what’s often a highly stressful moment in life. They make happy weddings—and elopements—happen.

That’s what The Refinery in downtown Culpeper is all about.

The Culpeper Chamber of Commerce recognized the wedding venue’s good work with its 2021 Entrepreneur of the Year award.

“I love doing it; it fits my skill set really well,” Orr said of the enterprise she founded. “I can be in control of a situation, but also be helpful and think through things with other people, and I can problem solve. And a wedding is one problem after another.

“I get to be friends with our clients, make them feel at home, and be happy,” she added. “I love weddings; we’re not just trying to carry them out.”

Her business, created in 2018, has been a success whose ripple effects benefit other Culpeper business people.

On average, in ‘Before Covid’ times, The Refinery hosted at least one wedding every weekend. In a good year, it would see multiple weddings on one weekend, for 75 to 100 a year, Orr said.

“It can get real crazy,” she said with a smile.

Initially, the business focused solely on weddings, but now also hosts baby showers, bridal showers and elopements.

“You name it, and we do it,” Orr said.

Before the venue at 120 West Culpeper St. sprang into being, Culpeper County had only two or three places suitable for weddings and no one offered catering or ceremonial decorations, she said.

Orr, who grew up in Culpeper and married a local lad in 2016, realized there were many wedding-related gaps in the Culpeper market just waiting to be filled.

She saw that Culpeper, after years of hard work to restore buildings in its small-town historic district and draw visitors, had an up-and-coming vibe that appealed to all sorts of people.

“I thought a wave was about to start for weddings,” Orr said. “So I hopped on the wave and rode that.”

The first opportunity she spotted was to help couples save money by renting wedding paraphernalia, instead of buying things and throwing them away after their service. “I realized there was so much waste, with things that didn’t get used again,” Orr said.

So in 2016, she founded Bride & Joy to cater to couples’ needs. Two years later, she sold the business to a friend, Jess Frank, who moved it to a building on South East Street, opposite the Far Gohn craft brewery.

Then Orr created The Refinery, moving into a 1951 building near the post office that in recent years had been a secondhand bookshop, a pet store, a bike shop and a yoga studio.

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She and her staff transformed the building’s interior, with its exposed wooden beams and concrete floors, giving it an earthy and organic feeling.

Orr came up with the name for the business while brainstorming with friends, seeking a natural motif.

“The idea was that you take a rock and turn it into a precious stone,” she said. “We give couples a blank slate and turn it into a beautiful, organic space.”

The space, which has two floors totalling 6,900 square feet, provides more affordable options for couples, renting for about a third of the price of wedding venues in Northern Virginia, Orr said.

The Refinery draws celebrants from the Culpeper area, Northern Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.—with about 10 percent of them from Culpeper and the rest from “everywhere else,” she said.

In concert with local partners, it has helped make Culpeper a destination for many people, Orr said.

“People like dining and staying here, that’s what I hear from local shop people” she said.

Restaurants and lodgings appreciate the customers she can send their way, and it works both ways, Orr said.

“We are really grateful to the people of Culpeper. We get a lot of referrals from residents and other businesses,” she said. “The community has always supported us.”

Proof of The Refinery’s success is that the Culpeper area now has about 14 wedding venues and lots of caterers.

“Weddings generate a lot of money,” Orr said. “Everyone realized that, but it happened naturally—I really don’t know how.”

Local wineries started upping their ability to host weddings, and farms and barns began specializing in them, she said.

The novel coronavirus pandemic, of course, has been tough on The Refinery, as it has been for so many businesses, Orr said.

Things grew brighter in midyear and the fall of 2020, when Virginia and CDC guidelines eased and the venue could host sizable weddings again, she said. But now the rules have tightened as the pandemic has grown worse, allowing it only to host elopement ceremonies with 10 or fewer people.

With the current public-health strides being made toward fighting the virus, the wedding industry hopes things will return to normal as soon as possible, Orr said.

One bright spot is that The Refinery was able to use 2020’s six hottest weeks, coupled with two COVID-19 relief grants from the town, to double the capacity of its building’s air-conditioning system, making it far more comfortable in summertime, Orr said.

This year, July and August are already booked, she noted.

“(Culpeper Renaissance Inc.) and Culpeper Tourism have done everything they can to help people during the pandemic,” Orr said. “That’s been huge and instrumental to businesses like mine, and other businesses, especially small ones.”

The Refinery’s website is www.therefineryat120.com.

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Clint Schemmer, a journalist since 1980, has worked at papers in California, North Carolina and Virginia. He’s been a bureau chief, editorial-page editor, copy desk chief and local news editor. Now a staff writer at the Culpeper Star-Exponent.

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