Tag Archive | "Virginia"

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Windshield tour drives home the problems of a community

Posted on 31 May 2011 by admin

In Richmond’s East End, six housing projects huddle around the Peter Paul Development Center. Then, I-64 wraps around the entire area, successfully positioned as a moat, or wall, which isolates the concentrated urban poverty from the resources of greater Richmond.

In this bleak city island,  poor means an average income of $8,900, says Rev. Lynne Washington, executive director of the Peter Paul Development Center (PPDC).

Rev. Washington is our guide on the Windshield Tour, which safely carries us into areas of town many will never visit; to witness landscapes many of us would never forget were we to see them.

The Windshield Tour is about a 90 minute event. Aboard the bus, participants learn interesting and shocking facts about the neighborhoods served by the PPDC.

For example, no new schools have been built in this neighborhood–even though there are 4,000 children in Churchill–since the 1950’s, says Rev. Washington.

Or that “ Newsweek” magazine considers Armstrong High one of the nation’s worst “drop-out factories.”

For complete article, click on over to Pergula, a community news portal.

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The ABC’s of Social Media and Happy Hour

Posted on 16 February 2011 by admin

Numerous restaurants in Richmond are violating, some without knowing, some simply disregarding, what many see as an invasive prohibition on social media promotion.

Gone are the days of Speakeasies, Prohibition-era liquor establishments, where liquor discreetly flowed for those whose tongues were agile with the correct password for entry. Even though billions of dollars now steadily pour into the coffers of alcohol manufacturers, in Virginia restaurants dare not speak easy about happy hour pricing.

Not too long ago restaurants were completely prohibited from promoting happy hour outside of the storefront. In late 2009, the ABC board approved the posting of a 17″ by 22″ sign in the window of a restaurant. This action symbolized forward movement from an organization often thought of as conservative.

When but not What

The momentous change spawned signage in windows, announcing, yes the business has a happy hour–a fact probably already known by 10 of 10 adults. In an urban setting, the sign might make a difference, but in a suburban setting, most restaurants receive specific destination traffic.

What really matters to those seeking the heaviest drinks for recession-light wallets are the prices, the choices, and the times. Times are actually allowed on the posted sign, but no specific mention of available selections, or the special prices is permitted.

“What the customer is deprived of is the information about what kind of specials are being offered,” said Thomas Lisk, an attorney at Eckert Seamans who previously served as chairman of the Industry Advisory Panel to the Virginia ABC Board during its regulatory review process.

…Finish reading the article, find out what promotions are legal and illegal, and take the poll at Richmond.com

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Wine Tasting

Posted on 19 January 2011 by admin

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Touring Virginia Wine Country

Posted on 19 January 2011 by admin

Touring the Monticello Wine Trail: Jefferson Vineyards from Alix Bryan on Vimeo.

Okay Richmond, quit whining about the cold weather. This frigid season might not be a barrel of laughs, but there are plenty of ways we can fight seasonal affective disorder and avoid hibernation. One of those sure fire ways just might be drinking, or rather, tasting. Vineyards located nearby on the Monticello Wine Trail offer the promise of an adventure blended with interesting history lessons, beautiful panoramas, and of course, award-winning wine.

Sure, Richmond boasts a list of events equal in length to our Canal Walk. But what about the open road? What about a low-cost, action-packed excursion that can easily deliver you home by the end of the day? With just enough time left over, well, to drink some of the wine you bought?

One more word of encouragement: local. Apply the popular “Buy Local” movement to your wine consumption. Here are some tips to help you become an oenophile, educated by some of the best vintners in America.

Background
We have tourists visit the state just for our wine. We are considered the “Birthplace of American Wine,” thanks to Thomas Jefferson, yet it took about 200 years for our wineries to really figure out the tricky climate and produce quality wines. We are now the 5th largest producer of wine in the United States.

Virginia wine has been applauded at the international level, proven by the 20 awards received, out of 10,983 global wines entered, at the 2010 Decanter World Wine awards.

We have a native grape, the Norton, and even a crown jewel, the Viogner (vee-on-yay). The Viogner helped put Virginia on the map, thanks to the research and brave gambles of Dennis Horton, of Horton Vineyards. This is some of the priceless stuff you get to learn about at the tastings.

Read more about exploring Virginia Wine Country at Richmond.com

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Devil’s Triangle Shapes Up

Posted on 14 September 2010 by admin

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The Devil doesn’t live here anymore

Posted on 14 April 2010 by admin

The Devil Doesn’t Live Here Anymore from Alix Bryan on Vimeo.

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Birth of a nickname

Posted on 14 April 2010 by admin

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A seedy neighborhood transformed into an economic corridor

Posted on 14 April 2010 by admin

The exorcism and transformation of one tiny neighborhood in Richmond.

While Richmond is home to many historic neighborhoods, not all can claim such infamous tales, nor independent revitalization, as the Devil’s Triangle.  Concentrated efforts in the past six years have transformed this once rough neighborhood  into an economic corridor and designation for locals and visitors alike.  Overall, it was a slow, gradual change lasting more than 20 years, but one that the city just recently recognized.

Conversion of the Richmond area known as the Devil’s Triangle has involved many factors, people, and investors. The area’s time-line extends far back, before it was even known by such a moniker.

Trolley’s came through in the 1920s. The streets bustled and hosted a hospital, butcher, pharmacy, barber, newsstand, cigarette shop and even briefly, the city’s second Ukrops.
In the late ‘70s through the early ‘90s, a darker side of history cast a long shadow in which many seedy activities took place. Drugs. Prostitution. Alcoholism. Bar brawls. Gunfights. Robberies.

THE DEVIL’S TRIANGLE
The Devil’s Triangle spans less than a mile, and is bundled into an urban area that Richmond locals refer to as the Upper Fan, which developed much later than the rest of the Fan, a general term for the part of the city that boasts VCU and historic homes.

The boundaries of the Devil’s Triangle run from Monument Ave. on the north to Kensington Ave. on the south, from the Boulevard on the east to Belmont Ave. to the west.

An aura of ill repute once enshrouded this tiny neighborhood area with a big reputation. There was a lot of crime, and a rougher clientele made the bars too foreboding for most Fan residents.

“If there was any corner of Richmond that was notorious, it was this corner,” said Rich Holden, former owner of the bar Felix, and current partner in Bandazian & Holden, the investors who have contributed substantially towards the area’s transformation.

For three decades The Devil’s Triangle has been Holden’s beat.  He has been involved with these streets since the early ‘80s; as a proprietor, resident, and now, major real estate investor.  Holden owned and operated Felix seven days a week, one of the three bars which formed the original Devil’s Triangle; Felix, The Ritz, and Cafe 21.

“It was very Southern blue collar, lower income, lots of people on welfare,” said Holden, as he explained the common denominators among residents.

There were also Vietnam vets with psychological problems, biker gangs, and criminals. When the police were out looking for someone, their first stop was The Ritz, and odds were good the suspect would be apprehended.

“One reason the police sort of tolerated The Ritz, and didn’t put more pressure on them was because their suspects would gravitate towards the bar and it made them easy to find,” said Holden.
“It was a place where you would see a lot of drunken fights and could find drugs, even prostitution,” said Sean McClain, the owner of Banditos Burrito Lounge, now in its 13th year of operations.

HOLDEN EXPLAINS THE ORIGINS OF THE NICKAME.

Holden purchased Babe’s restaurant in anticipation of Fan renovations moving over the Boulevard, a former boundary that divided the more desirable city area from the less. The renovations didn’t really begin to happen until the later ‘90s, almost 20 years after Holden had opened Felix.

The local oasis for sundries and octane, a 7-11, opened in the late ‘80s. It brought floodlights and 24 hour activity to a dark corner once inhabited by an auto-body shop that doubled as a drug trafficking hotspot.

“It was one of the worst things we could have had. At night there was no lighting and it provided opportunity for all sorts of questionable characters and activities, especially drugs and drug dealing,” said Holden, who watched cars steadily come and go in the evening.

At that time, drug customers were the only destination traffic that the area received, no outsiders or families visited the bars. Clientele for the bars came only from within the small neighborhood. By the time Holden closed his doors, there were 250 people banned from the bar. His wasn’t the roughest location either, of these Wild West saloon-like bars, where people were sometimes asked to check weapons when entering.

The tales are numerous, as Holden attests, and for years, he had a front row seat.

Bodies would fly out the Ritz. Someone checked a hand grenade. Gunfights. A dent in the door frame at Cafe Diem, formerly Cafe 21, is claimed to have come from a ricocheting bullet.

Mark Holmberg, former reporter for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, once arrived on the scene of a gunshot call to find the victim still chugging beer at the bar, as blood oozed from his wounds.
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Listen to reporter Mark Holmberg’s account of a gunfight in the Devil’s Triangle.

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Richard Arthur, owner of Cafe Diem, was actually born in this neighborhood, at the former Johnston Willis hospital. He purchased Cafe 21 nine years ago, when the original owner died.

Arthur explained that the bar’s design was with intention to minimize causalities. He recalled the tire irons that hung from each end of the bar when he took over it. The bar’s brick construction was built four deep, with intention to halt a 357 magnum bullet in its path.

His first year in business, Arthur held a fundraiser to replace the old bar stools.

“The bar stools were clunky and heavy, designed so that a rowdy patron would topple over if they tried to wield one above their head,” said Arthur.

Those days are gone.

AN EXORCISM
Street lights, brightly colored paint, and hefty financial investment are a few ways to cast out the devil.

Eventually, the Fan spilled over the Boulevard. The integration and extension of the Fan, and a keen focus on redevelopment finally prompted the long awaited, and necessary, exorcism.
Old rooming houses were converted. Buildings were gutted and restored. The demographics began to change. The median income jumped from $25,000 to $75,000 and crime dropped. No one knows where all the former residents went, but the Fan migration took away the rowdy clientele.

“I sometimes am amazed. It’s a totally different place. I look up and down these streets and can’t believe the change since the ‘80s,” said Holden, who rarely, if ever, sees anyone who used to frequent the area.

“It’s a historic neighborhood that offers all modern conveniences,” said Ray Bonis, a Devil’s Triangle resident for 10 years.

Bonis, who lives in the apartments located in the converted Johnston Willis hospital, never anticipated staying this long. An avid historian employed by the VCU collections department, Bonis not only benefits from the neighborhood’s accommodations, he also blogs about the area.
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Ray Bonis, a local resident for ten years, describes the appeal of the Devil’s Triangle.

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IT TAKE A VILLAGE, AND MONEY.
Holden mentioned that a lot of hands were involved in the revitalization of the neighborhood, and doesn’t think that Bandazian & Holden can take complete credit. Bandito’s relocated here in 2003, and had prior success changing the gateway to Oregon Hill, their former location.

Bandazian & Holden purchased all the commercial properties along the notorious two blocks, and also have numerous residential holdings in the area. Inspired by a district in Charleston, S.C., renovations included adding more street lights for safety, coating the buildings in fresh paint of vibrant colors, and removing several awnings to make the storefronts more inviting.
Three bars still inhabit the original corners, but now they attract families and are considered destination spots from other neighborhoods.
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Take a look into the Devil’s Triangle

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The city has acknowledged the efforts made by the real estate company. Recently they met with Mayor Dwight C. Jones and his Deputy Chief Peter Chapman, to discuss future plans that include getting the power and phone lines underground and making other aesthetic upgrades.

Holden claimed that the city is considering giving them a special designation, similar to Carytown.

“The city really likes what we’ve done here, because it took a problem away from them. The police attention took man hours. Now it is an area that they can point to with pride,” said Holden.

While the city funds might be coming in soon, everything that happened previously was private investment. Business owners saw an opportunity to cast out the devil, to change the neighborhood’s reputation and existence.

Holden doesn’t seem to keen on the lasting nickname. Having worn many hats, from a bar owner deep in the trenches to an investor calling the shots, might make Holden leery to associate the infamous reputation with the burgeoning business district. And after all, those who refer to it as The Devil’s Triangle were not likely to have ever visited in its heyday.

Arthur likes the moniker, as does McClain.

“Now it seems to be one of those places that lives in the lore of the old days,” said Sean McClain, who noted the nickname is just a catchy way to describe a business district, much like Hell’s Kitchen, N.Y.
McClain shook his head thoughtfully and offered an observation that perhaps the devil really has nothing to do with this thriving business district.

“I don’t think the devil lives here. I have to say, I don’t think he lives in this triangle,” emphasized McClain.

Anymore.

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