Squeezed on the east and west by the expanding Richmond Convention Center and the restoration of historic buildings, what is the future for downtown Broad Street's last stretch of retail?
Six Blocks of Broad
[image-1](Scott Elmquist / Style Weekly)Barksdale W. Haggins, better known as Barky of Barky's Spiritual Stores ("For All Your Religious Needs"), says he likes the area. "I'm very hyped, very positive, about the convention center," Haggins says. "In the next 36 to 48 months, the difference will be night and day. A rising tide raises all boats." Darkness is falling where East Broad and Second streets cross, and the pedestrians brace against the chill, damp air. It is just days until Christmas, and exhausted workers scurry across cold downtown pavement toward metal-clad shelters to await their rides home. Buses rumble by, destined for Highland Park, Lakeside or Church Hill. Little noticed by most commuters zipping up and down Broad Street, the last remnant of a once-thriving downtown shopping district stretches six blocks between Fifth and Adams streets. Richmond's transit routes and transfer points are little changed after more than a century: First streetcars, and now buses, have delivered potential customers downtown since the late 19th century, making Broad an inevitable retail destination. On the eve of 2001, public transit still delivers a customer base to Broad Street, but since the 1970s the customers have been a different demographic: black and usually traveling between work and home. "It's a real neighborhood," Christine Risatti says of the six-block-long stretch of Broad Street retail. She is executive director of Downtown Presents, a not-for-profit organization that presents promotional, downtown events including the neighborhood's Second Street Festival each October. "I enjoy coming through there on the way to work," Risatti says, "looking into the barber shops and watching all the activity." The bus lines constitute the area's lifeblood; they provide it with a consistent, transient, but steady customer base. "All the shoppers are bus riders," says Samuel H. Pryor, a lifetime resident of nearby Jackson Ward who works for "All the shoppers are bus riders," says Samuel H. Pryor, a lifetime resident of nearby Jackson Ward who works for the police department. So the business plan of most merchants along this stretch is to grab bus riders with $5 or $10 burning holes in their pockets. "G.C. Murphy's [at Fourth and Broad] is a good example, where a gold merchant has rented space right inside the front door," says Jack Berry, executive director of Richmond Renaissance, a private-public endeavor focused on bolstering downtown development. "It's as if a street vendor just set up inside." [image-2](Scott Elmquist / Style Weekly)Astrid Coffi, who is studying hotel and restaurant management at Virginia State University, came to Richmond four years ago from West Africa. She's been braiding hair at Awas African Hair Braiding for the past three years. But there are physical pressures to these six blocks. The sprawling, expanded convention center coming to life on Broad between Fifth and Fourth streets presses from the east. The blocks in a city historic district west of Adams are becoming increasingly gentrified, with-above-the-street upscale apartments. And the area may soon lose its main source of customers. City officials are planning a central, enclosed bus transfer point at another downtown location. With all this, can the last remnant of Broad Street's once-thriving retail district survive? At first look, the neighborhood appears healthy. There are few empty storefronts. Women's and men's clothiers, pawnshops, furniture stores, record shops and wig, hair and beauty operations line the street. And while some venerable establishments such as J. P. Crowder's Delicatessen and Bachrach's, Schwarzschild and Waller jewelers still beckon customers as they did generations ago, today Broad Street has a definite international flavor. Entrepreneurs include people born in Iran, Palestine, Vietnam and Korea. "A lot of foreigners have opened stores in the neighborhood," says Margaret Liniado of newer merchants on the street. Her husband, Sam, moved here from Brooklyn, N.Y., during World War II to run Harper's, which was then called The Linen Mart at the corner of Broad and Second. "They want to give Broad a try," she adds with an enthusiastic smile. "They want to liven up the street. [image-3](Scott Elmquist / Style Weekly)Using equipment more than a century old, Earl Layne and Beverly J. Holmes repair boots and shoes at Wing Shoe. Holmes, the 75-year-old owner, says they don't build machinery the way the used to. "Today, people live fast and die young," he adds."We have customers that keep coming to us for some of the old styles, things they can't find anymore for their children," Liniado adds, pulling a boy's size-6 plaid jacket off the rack. "There are things here like they'd wear at Eton," the English boarding school. "When the Kennedy movie was filmed here, the costume designers bought from us." Sometimes it seems as if the city would prefer to forget this strip of shops exists. For decades downtown promoters have concentrated their marketing efforts in the environs of the former Miller & Rhoads and Thalhimers department stores near Broad and Sixth. The Coliseum, Carpenter Center for the Performing Arts and the 6th Street Marketplace were each established to bolster consumer traffic and spin-off activity in the area. But this holiday season, for some reason, white lights cheerfully adorn two blocks of depressing, mostly boarded-up buildings. Tiny white holiday lights glisten from trees in the median strip immediately to the east and west of 6th Street Marketplace. The six blocks from Fifth to Adams that are alive with retail activity, meanwhile, have no decorations at all. Jump to Part 1, 2,Part 2
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