Built in 1912, 102 Market Street, formally 102 Salem Avenue has been a part of the downtown Roanoke experience for generations. As such, it has risen and fallen with the larger economic climate of Roanoke. Its first iteration was The Ritz Hotel. Just over a decade later, it was hurt by the prosperous expansion of the downtown area, most notably with the construction of The Patrick Henry Hotel in 1925. As the 1950’s drew to a close, so did the downtown boom. With the construction of The Crossroads Mall in 1961, Roanoke City property suffered an economic slump.
Then, in 1979, the city launched the Design 79 initiative which aimed to stimulate the revitalization and redevelopment of the market area. John Williams and his business partners foresaw the impact of this movement on the potential for 102 Salem Avenue. In late 1979, they opened the newest venture in the building. Searching for an appropriate name, Williams decided to draw on two key historic downtown venues. A local popular saloon that features similar classic drinks in a large bar like that centered in the Main Dining Room had recently fallen on hard times and closed. Its owner was Billy Huddleston. In a nod to the buildings founding, they adopted the name of Billy's Ritz. Not long after opening, John Williams married and eventually took over sole ownership of the restaurant with his wife Betsy. The duo continued to operate the landmark for the next 29 years. In 2004, they opened a cheese shop in the location of the current Board Room called Say Cheese. In 2007, the Williams’ announced they were leaving the restaurant business at the end of the year. Purchased in 2008, the new owners opened Billy’s after significant renovations on May 23, 2012. The former space occupied by the hotel is now an event space and the Ritz lofts.
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