City Lends Hand To Community Pride; Officials Head to Far East; Chef Sneed Eyes Sixth Street; 

Street Talk

City Lends Hand To Community Pride

City officials have set aside $1.03 million to help Johnny Johnson improve two of his inner-city Community Pride grocery stores. And they're thinking about finding millions more in incentives to build up the retail areas around them.

The future of the aging stores, at 913 N. 25th St. and 2405 Chamberlayne Ave., is important to city and community planners because they are trying to improve the troubled areas that the stores serve.

And Johnson needs the help, says City Councilman Sa'ad El-Amin, who serves as chairman of City Council's Economic Development Committee.

"[Johnson] is in dire need of an upgrade of these stores," says El-Amin, "to get better space, a better look, more modern equipment." Those savings, he says, can be passed along to customers, typically poorer ones who need economical services.

Nestled in the current city budget, $515,000 has been appropriated for a Chamberlayne Avenue Development project and the same amount for a 25th Street Development project. El-Amin says that's what's going toward the store upgrades.

Johnson, CEO of Marketplace Holdings, the company that operates the Community Pride stores, explained his situation to the Economic Development Committee three months ago, before the budget was passed.

Johnson did not return repeated phone calls to him made by Style.

The money on the table — and whatever incentives may follow — is especially good news for Johnson. The beneficiaries of a trust that holds the leases to the stores decided to close their trust and liquidate — leaving Johnson with leases that expire in December, El-Amin says.

But the $1.03 million won't be enough, El-Amin says. After the stores are rebuilt — with construction starting in the next 60 to 90 days, to be completed by the spring — El-Amin would like to appropriate money to a developer who would build a shopping center around the stores. That would help secure the Community Prides, boost real estate taxes and improve the area, El-Amin says.

Two such projects would likely require at least $10 million, according to some familiar with community development projects. "This is peanuts," El-Amin says, noting that the city has handed out more than $100 million in such incentives during the last 10 years. The incentives probably would be stretched over three years, he says. "We fully intend to be certain that we include the necessary money to achieve these projects." — Jason Roop

Chef Sneed Eyes Sixth Street

Ever since The Frog and the Redneck and Carnivore's closed for financial reasons, folks have wondered what would become of Richmond's most self-promoting — if not ubiquitous — chef, Jimmy Sneed.

Apparently Sneed is planning to open a new restaurant at the much-maligned 6th Street Marketplace, where The Vine operated most recently, and Blue Point Seafood before that. Rumor has it that Sneed's fare will be strictly soul food; entrée items could start as low as $6.

Sneed could not be reached by press time, but 6th Street Marketplace manager Al Blunt says it's true. "We're talking and negotiating [with Sneed] for that facility," Blunt says. "But nothing's in stone."

Indications are everywhere that downtown is having a renaissance, with an expanded convention center nearing completion and building renovations or construction going on in almost every block. Sneed's cachet could be just the shot in the arm the sparse mall needs. Surely it couldn't hurt.

For now, Blunt is keeping his fingers crossed. "We hope we'll have something soon," he says. "But I know Murphy. What can go wrong often does." — Brandon Walters

Officials Head to Far East

Starting Aug. 31, at least three city officials will be out of their Richmond offices and in, of all places, China.

Councilman Sa'ad El-Amin, Vice-Mayor Rudy McCollum and Economic Development Director John Woodward are planning a five-day trip to attend the 14th International Business Exchange in Zhengzhou, China. Zhengzhou is one of Richmond's sister cities.

According to the city's public-information office, the Exchange is a trade conference that includes about 3,000 businesses from 30 provinces and 10 countries.

Trips like this are important, Woodward says, especially from an economic- development standpoint. Last year, for instance, he was part of a small delegation that went to Seoul, Korea, and another of Richmond's sister cities, Uijongbu, Korea.

"It helps establish ties," Woodward says. "Because of this and other Korean initiatives, over the past few months there has been some growing interest from Korean businesses in coming here."

This trip, he concedes, could be different. China's culture and economy are more strained. Still, Woodward says the visit is worth it. "There's great potential in China," he says. "We hope it yields some fruitful prospects." — B.W.

Park Official Plans Dung Solution

Geese are a troublesome lot, especially for Ralph White.

Without natural predators and with plenty of succulent grass, geese are living the good life along the James River, in growing numbers. There is no official count, but White, the naturalist in charge of the James River Parks system, says there is evidence of the increase: more geese dung.

The dung, which White describes as "thicker than a finger and smaller than a cigar," is piling up along the rocks of the river.

But if White has his way, next year more geese will take their droppings elsewhere. White plans to slow proliferation by conducting an annual four-day "harassment" campaign during the birds' March mating period.

Armed with noisemakers and a rowdy crew of rafters, White will spend four days hooting and hollering to keep the birds edgy and ready to move on. (It takes four days of disruption before the geese move on, White explains.)

While some people consider harassment the only humane strategy to reduce the goose population, White admits it's not the most effective solution. Because these Canadian geese have lost their migratory instinct, they don't go far, so they typically become someone else's problem.

But something must be done, White says. It's not just the dung's effect on the aesthetics of the area, he says, it's the increased risk of "swimmers itch" that comes with the waterfowl along the river's low-water regions.

"You wouldn't want to be wading waist deep in water like that," he says, because "it can be real uncomfortable."

Under pressure from city and wildlife officials nationwide, the animal-rights organization PETA offers an alternative to controlling the geese population: covering the eggs with corn oil in order to suffocate the embryo inside. But that's not a viable or necessary option yet, White says.

Of course, officials can always hunt and catch the geese, says Martin Lowney of Virginia's Wildlife Services, along with the habitat-alteration and harassment techniques. A long-term solution should include a combination of tactics, Lowney says.

But given the petlike status park-goers give the waterfowl in local parks, it is unlikely that many Richmonders will be up for swapping their turkey for a Christmas goose anytime soon.

Kevin Finucane

New Thrift Store a Salve for Sick

Members of Bon Secours St. Mary's Hospital auxiliary never anticipated the windfall they got two months ago. On June 1 the nonprofit hospital — which operates a gift shop and separate flower shop —opened its first off-site retail venture at 6512 W. Broad St., in the building that formerly was House of Windsor Antiques.

The thrift store is named Golden Opportunity at St. Mary's, and its volunteers say it provides just that.

All proceeds from the store help patients who can't afford the health care they need. It's apparently a popular cause, volunteers say, because thousands of new and used items keep pouring in. "It's amazing," says Anne Haggerty, a spokeswoman for the hospital. "People have literally unloaded their homes."

And there's no sign of it slowing down, according to some volunteers.

On a recent Thursday all clothes are $1. Furniture and bric-a-brac are selling for 50 percent off. Low prices are good for business, explains a volunteer. But today there are only a few customers. Still, volunteers Jayme Holmes and Rachel LeMmond are busy pricing and arranging everything from lamps to clothes to china.

"It's just wonderful," LeMmond says. "It seems like we get about 3,000 pieces of stuff a day."

St. Mary's auxiliary coordinates close to 600 volunteers. Increasingly, as the aging population grows and health-care costs escalate, auxiliaries like the one at St. Mary's are looking for new ways to raise money that can help patients.

"We had seen this done in other cities and we decided Richmond could benefit from this, too," says Kay Dunn, retail manager at the hospital. "The feedback we got from them was that they all started off too small," Dunn says. Even with the deluge of donations, she says, they're not likely to outgrow the 10,000 square feet of space at the site. "We just decided to go for it," says Dunn.

At the checkout counter a serene-looking figurine faces customers. It's St. Lucy, the patron saint of sales, explains Holmes. "She's our good luck charm," she says. "She's not for sale." — Brandon Walters

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