People & Places

Best No BS take on Richmond politics

Jon Baliles’ “RVA5X5” Substack
rva5x5.substack.com

Jon Baliles wants to be clear. His “RVA5x5” is not an entryway back into office holding. Even though the articles found on his Substack read like detailed candidate policy papers on everything from the Flying Squirrels’ new ballpark plan to the city’s meals tax debacle, the former city councilman and mayoral candidate says he’s not running for anything. “I can be brutally honest here, something I couldn’t be in office,” he says of the weekly updated info, which he sees as a necessary corrective. “The media landscape in Richmond, and everywhere, is disintegrating and someone needs to let people know what’s going on. Government is at its most dangerous when no one knows what’s going on.” At $5 a month, “RVA5x5” launched in June 2022, a bit on the quiet (“I don’t do social media,” he says), but it’s emerged as the place to go for experienced, nuanced, sometimes snarky views on local economic development deals, public safety, housing, and other general government watchdog topics. Baliles, son of late Virginia Governor Gerald Baliles, says that future articles will cast an eye on local politics. “This is an important election year, not just for the president. We’re going to elect a new mayor, most of the city council that voted twice for a casino is running again, and the entire school board, and we don’t have the media bandwidth to cover it all.” —D.H.

Best viral moment the city quickly squashed

The Richmond Gun Hole
On Addison between West Main and Cary

Pour one out for the Richmond Gun Hole. The city’s greatest landmark, a gun-shaped hole in the sidewalk that looked as though someone had pressed a revolver into wet concrete as it was drying, is no more. The Gun Hole went viral after X user @brockomole tweeted a picture of it with the caption “What if we kissed at the Richmond gun hole” on Jan. 26. The impression drew comparisons to the Chicago Rat Hole, which had gone viral earlier that month.  After Style and other media outlets reported on the Gun Hole, the city quickly filled it in (at a much faster rate than it seems to repair our potholes) on Jan. 31. That evening, someone dug it out. While still gun-shaped, it has much less definition than it once did. —R.G.

Best swift justice for a beloved buck

The Hollywood Buck

On Dec. 14 of last year, Jason Walters posted photos of himself with a dead buck on a Facebook page, saying he’d shot the white-tailed deer in Prince Edward County with a muzzleloader. According to the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, that deer was the Hollywood Buck, a famous resident of Hollywood Cemetery renowned for its massive 29-point rack. Walters has been charged with 19 separate wildlife violations in relation to the killing of the Hollywood Buck and two other deer. Alan Proffitt, a suspected accomplice, has been charged with six wildlife violations. Both suspects have their next appearance in court scheduled for Aug. 15. —R.G.

Most unlikely spot to catch a drag show

Rollerdome
4902 Williamsburg Rd.
rollerdomeskating.com

A pearl-clutching celebration of queerness on wheels-and-heels that is open to all, the Rainbow Roll features drag performances, DJ sets, and of course, skating for the whole family in a safe, alcohol-free environment for just $10 per person (that includes skate rental and a donation to a local LGBTQ+ organization). Virginia Pride partners with the iconic Rollerdome rink – you know, the space-age blue building if you’ve been down Williamsburg Road – every third Sunday of the month from 6 to 9 p.m. to bring the fun. Don your most fabulous rainbow wear and get ready to roll. —H.L.

Most unlikely RVA icon

Francine the cat @ Lowe’s
1640 W. Broad St.

Richmond is no stranger to beloved shop cats, but one has clawed deeper into hearts than others. Francine, a short-haired gal, traipsed into Lowe’s in 2017 and hasn’t left. She earns her keep by catching mice and looking adorable, drawing people from all over who journey to meet the icon. The fandom is real over on the social platform Reddit/RVA, where Francine usurped the RVA sidewalk chicken bone (if you know, you know) as the talk of the town, even getting her own filter so you can narrow your search results in hopes of an A-lister encounter (hint: it’s usually the garden department, but never a guarantee). Fans have shown off tattoos, selfies, and Francine-inspired wares like devotional candles. Yes, you heard that right. As with most celebrities, this cat is elusive and makes few public appearances. Style caught up with the star recently, when Francine stretched out on a patio glider. How does she handle fame? “Meow,” she says with a yawn, returning to her midday nap. No further questions. Francine, you are the queen. —H.L.

Best queer mover and shaker

Andy Waller
Founder of Dayum This Is My Jam
dayumjamrva.square.site

Entrepreneur. Advocate. Organizer. Parent. These are just a few words to describe beloved RVA queer community game-changer Andy Waller. Known for Dayum This Is My Jam, the former Safe Space Market, TransJam Events, and most recently, Here Queer, a multifaceted outpost and production kitchen in Jackson Ward, Waller is a juggernaut of big gay goodness. Their efforts kicked off in 2015 after a series of jobs let them down. “So many careers failed me mainly in part to my queerness,” they explain. “Misgendered, sexually harassed, tokenized, you name it from my first big kid job. My inspiration was almost desperation.” What began as a creative side hustle with a dear friend and a down-home cookbook became the ever-tasty Dayum This is My Jam. From there, many things happened. You’d be hard-pressed to find a week around town these days sans a Waller-influenced event that guarantees a fun time and often benefits LGBTQ+ spaces and organizations. From Honky Tonk Queeraoke nights at Starr Hill to the wildly successful, family-friendly Dragstravaganza shows held at Diversity Thrift, you’ll find tons of inclusive events thanks to this solid human. Keep an eye out for more quality things coming from Here Queer. It’s going to be delicious. —H.L.

Best under-the-radar radio show

Todd Ranson’s “The Loblolly Pine Show”
University of Richmond’s WDCE 90.1 FM
Wednesdays at 7:30 a.m.

Quirky, engaging, and fueled with the passion of a true music geek, “The Loblolly Pine Show,” hosted by Todd Ranson, has been transmitting eclectic rock, soul, gospel, reggae, country and funk on the University of Richmond’s 100-watt WDCE for 41 years, ever since the host was a UR freshman.

“Thirty-five minutes after my father dropped me off at school, I was at the station signing up,” says Ranson, 59. “And I’ve been there ever since.” With Angelo Badalamenti’s “Falling” as his longtime theme song, Ranson is a master of free form, deftly careening (on one recent broadcast) from the ‘60s psych soul of the Temptations to country instrumentalist Charlie McCoy and new indie rock from La Luz. He also knows how to zero in: His annual Neil Young birthday show in November is a Neil nut’s dream deep-dive, and the host prides himself on the quarterly reggae programs, as well as New Orleans tributes to Jazz Fest and Mardi Gras. The special Easter gospel and Christmas shows showcase cooler and lesser-known seasonal favorites. “I don’t play the low-hanging fruit,” he says. “I try to find the weirdest, wildest, craziest music I can find, like Tuvan throat singers doing Christmas carols.”

An attorney by day, Ranson is something of a musical pied piper. He also books bands at Granite Pool and is responsible for picking the acts at the Music in the Park concert series at Forest Hill Park. He’s been a long-time member of the Richmond Folk Festival’s local programming board and is also a key word-spreader. “The Loblolly Pine Show” is a place where people can find out about, and even preview, the wide range of live music coming to the area. His show is normally heard live on Wednesdays at 7:30 a.m. and simulcast on WDCE.org and the Live 365 app. Five years of previous shows are available for download at Spinitron (spinitron.com/WDCE/show/106404/The-Loblolly-Pine-Show). “The Loblolly Pine Show” is a labor of love, and it shows. “I do this radio show for myself,” the host says. “It’s a selfish thing to say, but it’s a creative outlet for me and it allows me to play music that I want to hear, and I hope other people enjoy it too. And typically, they do.” —D.H.

Best place to stay up on urban planning

Andy Boenau’s Urbanism Speakeasy Substack
urbanismspeakeasy.com

Renaissance man Andy Boenau is a photographer, podcaster, documentary filmmaker, marketing strategist and storytelling consultant who loves to talk about traffic flow and public infrastructure. The author of “Emerging Trends in Transportation Planning,” Boenau’s Urbanism Speakeasy is the destination place for data on pedestrian safety and sensible city planning, as well as thoughts by the author, in addition to guest commentators, on the best strategies for everything from bike and walking accessibility – keys to good urbanism, Boenau says – to more reasonable regulations. (He’s got a similarly themed podcast, “How We Get Around”). “Our minds, bodies, and wallets are directly impacted by seemingly boring infrastructure,” he writes. “We’re suffering the consequences of unhealthy infrastructure, but not much is changing. This stuff matters to everyone.” —D.H.

Duron Chavis

Best affordable housing experiment

Bensley Agrihood
North Chesterfield

So-called “agrihoods” are typically found in expensive neighborhood developments, says Duron Chavis, whose Happily Natural Day organization maintains community gardens across the region. That organization’s newest project, Bensley Agrihood, seeks to change that. In an inner suburb of Chesterfield, it will merge a working, 1.5-acre farm with a low-cost housing development, making for a most unusual agrihood. The Maggie Walker Capital Land Trust and the nonprofit youth organization, Girls For A Change, the owner of the land, are partnering with Happily Natural to build 10 two-and three-bedroom homes in the 1,200 to 1,500 square-foot range on nine acres off of Swineford Road, to be offered to eligible first-time buyers at lower-than-market prices. Residents would get first dibs on the food grown on the accompanying farm – oops, because of Chesterfield zoning quirks, we have to call it a “garden” – with the rest distributed to the surrounding residents through farm shares.

“I’m excited about planting fruit trees,” Chavis says. “And blackberries, raspberries, blueberries. We have a definite vision for annual crop production on the space, so there will be a greenhouse to grow greens, carrots, strawberries.” Budding farmers and horticulturalists with no access to land can also obtain prime dirt at Bensley, he adds.

“This is completely new,” says Eric Mai, the director of acquisition for Maggie Walker trust, which is serving as the developer. “We’re looking at the Bensley project in terms of food security, racial equity and a much-needed resource … an additional catalyst bringing change to Rt. 1.”

Over the past year, the partners have been working with Chesterfield officials to change the property’s county zoning from residential to mixed-use — the initial hang up, strangely, was whether or not Bensley could raise chickens (it can’t). Now the Board of Supervisors has held up rezoning again because, well, it’s Chesterfield. But Bensley’s “garden” could theoretically be set up by 2025, Chavis says. The housing component would follow, as well as a community building.

This $4.5 million “experiment” will be built through a fund drive spearheaded by the Maggie Walker trust, its first capital campaign ever. “We’re charting new ground here,” Mai says. —D.H.

Readers’ Choice

Best drag performer

Michelle Livigne
@michellelivigne

Best meteorologist

Andrew Freiden
(WWBT)
@instafreiden

Best media personality

Curt Autry
(12 On Your Side News)

Best community leader

Kelli Lemon
@likethefruit

Best social media influencer

@miss_elaine_neous

Best bartender

Heather James

Best chef

Giuseppe Carollo (Frank’s Ristorante)

Best tattoo artist

Jen Bean
Loose Screw Tattoo
3313 A W. Cary St.

Best radio station

WRVA
audacy.com/newsradiowrva

Best sports team

Richmond Flying Squirrels
3001 N. Arthur Ashe Blvd.
milb.com/richmond

Best park

Maymont
1700 Hampton St.
maymont.org

Best tourist attraction

Maymont

Best hike

Pocahontas State Park
10301 State Park Rd. (Chesterfield)

Best community garden

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
1800 Lakeside Ave.
lewisginter.org

Best place to play pickleball

Bangers & Dinks
1516 Kroger Center Blvd.

View the winners in each of the following categories:

Arts & Culture

Dining & Nightlife

Goods & Services

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