[image-1](Scott Elmquist / Style Weekly)"I've been shopping this stretch of Broad Street for as long as I can remember," says Gladys Mitchell, in the crowd at the Ukrop's/Richmond Jaycees Christmas parade. And the locals notice. Harper's veteran saleswoman Dorothy Nicholas, dressed in a well-tailored wool suit, stands surrounded by an impossibly broad range of merchandise children's clothing, perambulators, clocks and furniture. She peers through the glass, gesturing through the double glass doors and onto Broad Street. On the landscaped median strip, slender branches of crepe myrtles form skeletal silhouettes against the neon-lit backdrop of retail signage. "Why didn't they put Christmas lights on those trees?" she asks. It seems the city prefers not to pay for them. "We're really are not budgeted for any type of holiday decoration," says Angela Jackson-Archer, marketing and public relations specialist for Richmond's Department of Parks and Recreation, which strung the lights next to Sixth Street. "And nice as it is," she adds, "there are people who are not so excited about the Christmas season." A sidewalk survey of the retail windows on Broad from Fifth to Adams reveals Broad Street merchants themselves have expended little effort at seasonal décor. Unlike for malls and more upscale retail districts, Christmas means less to the bottom line for these merchants. It's not a major shopping destination; customers arrive at these businesses intermittently throughout the day with each stop of each bus. It's also a religious and cultural thing. The 200 block of Broad has at least two Muslim shopkeepers. At Hot Nails at 324 E. Broad, where manicurists' stations are lined up in rows, a small Shinto shrine sits on the floor just inside the front door. [image-2](Scott Elmquist / Style Weekly)The Discount Market Place works to lure bus riders with merchandise ranging from bananas to socks to watches. The big question on downtown merchants' minds is how the expanded convention center this spring will affect their sales and this surviving pocket of Broad Street retail. One variety-store owner is pessimistic; he predicts the convention center will close in six months. "Where are they going to park?" he asks. Others are less emphatic. "It will bring more people down here; it will be better," Liniado says. "Will it get back like it used to be?" She leaves her question unanswered. The city's attention is focused on the Canal Walk. But some changes are ahead for Broad Street. "The city's movers and shakers think that these businesses are doing well on their own," says one closely involved downtown official who asks not to be identified. "There are some nice businesses there. But they're working to fix the corner of Fifth and Broad and make it less of an eyesore." A pressing problem is the former Woolworths store, a handsome modern edifice that gets increasingly trashed with every rainstorm. The front door is boarded up where a car recently careened across the curb, and during hard rains, water lit erally pours out from cracks of the building. The once-elegant burgundy canvas Miller & Rhoads awnings are tattered. Huge R&B and rock-show posters are plastered everywhere. For some time, long-term plans have called for converting the south side of the 400 block of East Broad into a major convention hotel. This, of course, could reduce by one block the six-block retail stretch. (On the block's north side, the convention center has already eliminated any possibility of retail there.) And ideas have been batted around about converting the landmark Art Deco Wachovia building on the 200 block into a hotel. But so far, it appears the expanded convention center won't make a difference. Very few national conventions have been booked during the next five years. "I have a hard time seeing how four to five days a month, 50 days out of 365, of national conventions can sustain anybody," says Renaissance's Berry. "For anything to survive on Broad Street will have to depend on what's already there. It can't count on conventions." "But any changes they make might detract from the character of the city," one city official official warns. "They will want a Hard Rock Café on every corner. A lot of out-of-towners want Disneyland; they want to know what to expect when they visit a city." [image-3](Scott Elmquist / Style Weekly)The Others make a living other ways. "I'm a hustler," says Muhammed, left, with Hova and Tony Brown. What does he hustle? "Whatever makes me money." And though they may look weathered, the remaining six blocks of retail Broad Street have no shortage of character. At a variety store, the Palestinian-born owner (who declines to give his name: "I don't trust anyone," he says, going into a tirade over Israeli and Palestinian conflicts. "Not government, not even my girlfriends") sweeps his eyes across the sales floor like windshield wipers. A lighted cigarette dangles from his lips. A continuous flow of shoppers comes and goes: a cigarette sale here, a bag of vinegar potato chips there, a bottled soda sale and always, more cigarettes. Two Russian-speaking natives of the Georgia Republic, laborers on the convention center, come in and purchase a jar of honey. A woman and her two grown children spend a little more time in the store. They leave with a sketch pad and two thermal undershirts. Although they seem fascinated by a 12-inch black Santa Claus, prominently displayed on the sales counter, they don't buy it. "It hasn't done well," grumbles the merchant. Still, after three years at his location at the corner of Second and Broad, he says he's doing OK: It's the bus transfer point, he explains. A customer comes in and asks for bus discount coupons. "We don't sell them," he replies. Leon Epps and two teen-age friends, in droopy jeans, plush down jackets and stocking caps, bound off an East Main Street bus. They are fresh from a shopping spree at Willow Lawn. Each carries two large plastic bags from Footlocker, which also has a store at 6th Street Marketplace. "We shop at the malls, but come downtown to hang out," Epps says with a smile. The trio runs off, athletically dodging traffic and cutting across the unadorned crepe myrtles toward The New Fish Market. The eatery's specialty is fresh fried-trout sandwiches. Outside, the aroma flows from the building and permeates the urban airspace. Indeed, it's a sensation one can't get at the mall. Jump to Part 1, 2
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