Shadow Boxing 

What's been most disappointing about the opposition campaign, Don't Big-Box Carytown, is that the proposal is not a big-box development. It's the opposite.

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As a local Carytown small-business owner, I understand the importance of honest marketing and providing good, factual information. That's why I feel compelled to set the record straight regarding the proposed Carytown Place development on North Nansemond Street.

I've been in business since 1978. Twenty years ago my business partners and I bought Calvary Baptist Church, which is now an extremely attractive development at 3325 W. Cary St. The businesses that occupy our building — Karina's Salon, Martin Interior Design and Annett Dean — know firsthand what it is like to redevelop an existing building. After a two-year renovation of the church, we opened our doors for business in 1992, which helped to revitalize and anchor one end of Carytown.

The adaptive reuse of the now-vacant Verizon building, the site of the proposed retail project, offers yet another important reinvestment opportunity.

There are the key facts about the project that have been misrepresented by the opponents:

ƒ?› The current building is being enhanced and is not being torn down.

ƒ?› The potential tenants are high quality and may include specialty grocery stores. Users such as Wal-Mart and other discounters and dollar stores have been unequivocally ruled out because they simply don't fit with the upscale nature of the development.

ƒ?› The project is not on Cary Street in the heart of Carytown, but rather adjacent to CVS, Martin's, Walgreens and the U.S. Post Office.

But what's been most disappointing about the opposition campaign, Don't Big-Box Carytown, is that the proposal is not a big-box development. It's the opposite. The project is taking a rather bland, two-story brick building, formerly a 24-hour call center, and turning it into an attractive, pedestrian-friendly project that will breathe new life into this otherwise unappealing section of Ellwood Avenue. In fact, the usable square footage with this proposal is being reduced from the current 135,000 square feet to just 41,000 square feet.

Areas such as Carytown benefit from high-quality retail projects because they attract people to the area. The same principle applies to other shopping areas in the region. The presence of Nordstrom at Short Pump Town Center benefits all the other businesses at the mall. When someone drives from the Fan to Short Pump to buy clothing, they're much more likely to visit other stores, eat at a local restaurant and otherwise spend money in the area.

I've heard from retail experts that a large number of city residents drive to the counties to shop at specialty grocery stores such as Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and Fresh Market. This means that potential Carytown shoppers end up in Short Pump and hurt our businesses. I've heard the opponents claim that having a fourth grocery store in the area would be too many. But when compared with surrounding markets, it's clear that Carytown is actually underserved. Short Pump serves a smaller population than Carytown yet has eight grocery stores in close proximity to one another. (Comparing demographics within three miles, Carytown has 98,224 residents and Short Pump has 61,323 residents, according to a 2009 study.)

People also should question why the opponents are calling this project a big box, but didn't oppose all the other national retail chains in the immediate area. Walgreens is right next door to this development, as is CVS, 7-Eleven and Martin's. The Kroger just down the street will be twice as big as the entire Carytown Place project when its expansion is completed, also a sign of positive progress for Carytown.

As business people, we should be paying attention to meeting the needs of customers through quality service, reasonable prices and creating a positive experience — not trying to keep others out of the market. 

Competition is good for thriving retail areas. Just look at how many women's apparel shops are in Carytown. If all of the existing women's clothing shops ganged up and tried to block a new one from locating in Carytown, they might feel good in the short term, but they would be big-time losers. We know that people who come to one store will visit others — that's what makes Carytown successful. A rising tide lifts all boats in a retail environment.

We should be more concerned about the long-term decline that could result in Carytown — such as vacant stores or a lack of new investment — if this proposal is rejected. The Carytown Place project would result in a substantial investment. The project also will bring hundreds of needed jobs to the community. Saying no to Carytown Place would be like putting a big closed sign up in the area.

The project also will be a good fit for Carytown. Retaining and enhancing the existing brick building goes well with the residential housing units on Floyd Avenue and Nansemond Street. Pedestrian-friendly features will encourage foot and bike traffic. The landscaping and outdoor cafe seating also will draw people to the area in the same way that Can Can rejuvenated Cary Court.

So to those who say “Don't big-box Carytown,” I agree emphatically. The Carytown Place project will be a tasteful and attractive redevelopment of an existing building that will enhance the community — not a big box. Let's keep Richmond open for business!

Karina S. Slaughter owns Karina's Salon and the 3325 W. Cary St. building in Carytown.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.

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