by Joan Tupponce
It wasn’t an emergency. Amthor International was doing a routine job — building the body for a Danville Fire Department truck — but the company still ended up getting life-saving information: Go south.
At the time Amthor, the nation’s largest manufacturer of truck-mounted tanks, was trying to build a factory in the Hudson Valley of New York, its home since 1928. But Amthor’s expansion plans met with repeated opposition from the community. “After three years, we realized it wasn’t meant to be,” says marketing director Brian Amthor.
When Amthor and his parents, Alice and Butch Amthor, heard about the industrial park in Gretna, from the Danville fire department, they thought the Pittsylvania County town would be a good location for their factory. “It was our last hope,” Amthor says. The family opened their new factory/headquarters in Gretna in 1992.
Now, business is booming. This year Amthor International was named a member of the Fantastic 50, an annual list of the state’s fastest growing companies, by the Virginia Chamber of Commerce. The company, which has 80 employees, recorded sales growth of 116 percent from 2003 to 2006, the four-year period measured in the competition. Amthor International also was named to the Inc. 5,000 list of the fastest growing privately held companies in the U.S.
Gretna has welcomed Amthor and his family with open arms. “What they have given us has been great,” Amthor says. “They are very hospitable.”
Amthor and his family now split their time between New York and Virginia. “We like Gretna because it is a change of pace,” he explains. “Everything is a rat race in New York. We like small-town America.”
And that’s exactly what Gretna is. The town has about 1,300 residents and only one stoplight within its 1.2 square miles. Gretna is home to several shops and restaurants as well as the Gretna Theater, originally built as a movie theater in 1940s. For some time the theater served as a five-and-dime store and a grocery store until it recently was transformed into a modern movie theater showing first-run movies. The movie theater is also home to the Gretna Little Theater which presents theatrical productions.
Amthor enjoys visiting nearby Smith Mountain Lake. The 20,600-acre lake has 500 miles of shoreline, offering opportunities for swimming, boating, sailing and fishing.
He also makes an occasional stop in nearby Chatham, Pittsylvania’s county seat. The community is often referred to as the “Prettiest Little Town in Southside Virginia” because of its Victorian homes and stately tree-lined streets.
Chatham’s historic district includes its 110-year-old Town Hall, the 226-year-old Tunstall-Hargrave home, and 114-year-old Chatham Hall, a girl’s preparatory school. One of the school’s most famous alumnae was artist Georgia O’Keefe.
Chatham is also home to the Tomahawk Mill Vineyard & Winery, which offers wines ranging from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to Vidal Blanc and Cabernet Franc.