Earley Backs Ukrop's, But Not Vice Versa; Armory's Hazy Future 

Street Talk

  • Earley Backs Ukrop's, But Not Vice Versa
  • Armory's Hazy Future Reflects Area's Struggle
  • Chopper Is Grounded By WRVA Changes
  • Shakespeare Finds Haven on the Hill

    Earley Backs Ukrop's, But Not Vice Versa

    By now you've likely seen the latest Mark Earley-for-governor commercial.

    In it, the Republican candidate pulls his Jeep Cherokee into the driveway of his home in the Salisbury neighborhood, as his six kids run down the steps to greet him.

    In the ad, Earley makes family-friendly promises like working for kids, keeping the car tax killed and cutting sales taxes on food. But what catches attention isn't what Earley says, but what he and his kids pull from the back of their Jeep Cherokee: six brimming paper grocery bags from Ukrop's.

    There's no mistaking them. The Ukrop's logo is so prominent that a lot of people are calling it "the Ukrop's commercial."

    What gives?

    The folks at Ukrop's don't know. "We were unaware they used our bags until the commercial aired," says Scott Ukrop, vice president of marketing for the supermarkets. "It caught us by surprise."

    Ukrop hasn't seen the ad, but he's heard a lot about it. He and his co-workers have received some calls and e-mails from customers who thought it inappropriate to use the Ukrop's name in a campaign commercial.

    Indeed, Ukrop says the company makes it a point not to endorse any political candidate.

    As individuals, however, the two most prominent Ukrops have been active in politics — but not for Earley.

    Members of the Ukrop family gave Earley's arch-rival, John Hager, about $15,000. Brothers Robert and James Ukrop were even listed by Hager's campaign as members of Hager's "leadership team."

    Still, the Ukrops welcome the Earleys' business. "They've got six kids," Ukrop says. "As a retailer, we're glad to welcome them as customers."

    So why Ukrop's and not, say, Kroger? "It happens to be where he and his family shop," says David Botkins, press secretary for Mark Earley's gubernatorial campaign. "Of course they shop at other stores, too," he adds quickly.

    The commercial was made over Memorial Day weekend, says Earley's senior campaign consultant, Anne B. Kincaid. It was created by the same California-based agency, Johnson Clark and Associates, that created commercials for Earley's attorney general campaign.

    "It was kind of fun," says Kincaid. "We were at the house looking at how we wanted to stuff the bags with the groceries. We just used what was in their cupboards.

    "He actually does do the grocery shopping when he can," she says, though she adds that Earley has little time for that these days.

    "Obviously," she says, "for Jimmy and Bobby Ukrop I would think it's good, free advertising." —
    Brandon Walters.

    Armory's Hazy FutureReflects Area's Struggle

    What happens next now that Jackson Ward is officially endangered?

    This week, in a move cheered by historians, preservationists and city officials, the National Trust for Historic Preservation placed Jackson Ward on its annual list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

    "The endangered list signifies that we're down to the end of the rope," says George Edwards, executive director for the Preservation Alliance of Virginia, which supported Jackson Ward's nomination.

    But through all the hoopla, one of Jackson Ward's most historic buildings, the 106-year-old First Battalion Virginia Volunteers Infantry Armory, remains one of its most neglected.

    The armory has long been the center of much of Jackson Ward's civic life. It was the first headquarters in the nation to house an all-black militia. During World War II, 56,000 black soldiers went there for processing. It has been a dance hall, a community center, and for a while was the home of Richmond's Black History Museum.

    The city took over the building in 1988 and declared it surplus in 1990. Ever since, historians, civic leaders, residents, churches and City Council have sparred over the best use for the dilapidated building or its site.

    Kent Ruffin, director of the African American Heritage Association of Virginia, says his organization is "in the throes of negotiating" with the city for the armory. But, he concedes, "there has been a lot of behind-the-scenes politics that have caused the delay."

    Last week someone from Ebenezer Baptist Church, across St. Peter Street from the armory, went around the neighborhood asking for signatures from people who didn't mind the church taking over the building, says a neighborhood resident. An employee from the church says the church doesn't have any information about that or the status of the building.

    Jackson Ward is about more than the armory, of course. It is home to Steamer Co. No. 5, the Maggie L. Walker House, Tucker Adams Cottage and the Adolph Dill House, to name but a few treasures.

    But the armory's hazy future reflects Jackson Ward's wider struggle. The neighborhood has endured being slashed in two by a highway. It has survived years of economic decline and a series of failed economic-revival attempts.

    In recent years, sparring about historic preservation in Jackson Ward has risen sharply. Dozens of homes have been razed. Many residents want economic development but worry that the poor and elderly will be displaced by gentrification. And many are worried about the constant construction since the convention-center expansion began.

    Money and possible restoration efforts could come from being named to the list. Since 1988, more than 100 locations including eight in Virginia have been named to the trust's endangered list, which aims to highlight nationally famous and locally significant examples of American heritage threatened by neglect, deterioration and lack of funds.

    The alliance's Edwards estimates that 80 to 90 percent of the places named to the list eventually become success stories.

    To some, Jackson Ward already is one. "You can't help but be proud of Jackson Ward," says Theodore Holmes, a Jackson Ward native who works at the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia. "It's a pearl. We get people from all over the world already that come to this little museum." —

    Chopper Is Grounded By WRVA Changes

    WRVA's signature traffic helicopter is grounded, at least for now.

    The helicopter, which for six months had been flying without a financial sponsor, was the victim, indirectly, of the format overhaul going on at 1140-AM.

    For two years, the chopper had been sponsored by the Automobile Association of America's mid-Atlantic chapter under an agreement reportedly worth somewhere in the low six figures. But AAA, unhappy with recent format changes at WRVA under new owner Clear Channel Communications Inc., let its contract expire in December.

    Executives at WRVA spent months searching for a new sponsor but failed. So they plucked the helicopter from the sky on June 15.

    "While WRVA remains committed to providing superior traffic-reporting services, they cannot fund it internally," says Whit Baldwin, owner of Richmond-based HeloAir Inc., the company that owns and operates the helicopter for the radio station.

    It's unclear whether it will ascend again. The helicopter could stay down until a new sponsor is found, says WRVA Director of Operations Randall Bloomquist, "or until we come up with a more effective, more efficient way to provide the information."

    The station's traffic broadcasts — every 10 minutes on the 5's — had been paired with reports from Metro Traffic Control Inc.'s Richmond office. WRVA used the helicopter to supplement morning and afternoon drive-time reports.

    Now Metro Traffic is the sole road-watcher.

    "No matter what," Bloomquist says, "we will continue to be the traffic leader." But in doing so the station must have good business sense, he says.

    The temporary suspension is an unusual break for Baldwin, who has flown for WRVA for 15 years and reported on traffic for 10. But he says he's not worried about the financial effects the grounding may have on HeloAir, which he has owned since 1992.

    HeloAir's traffic reports will continue on WWBT TV-12, Baldwin adds.

    "Even without WRVA as a client," Baldwin says, "HeloAir will remain the largest helicopter operator in the mid-Atlantic region. So we're in good shape." —
    Jason Roop

    Shakespeare Finds Haven on the Hill

    Three weeks before opening night of Encore Theatre's production of "Twelfth Night," the company learned it would have to find another venue for the second production of its popular perennial, the Richmond Shakespeare Festival.

    It just found one. This week, the company, along with as many volunteers as it can muster, is moving stage, scenery, props and people from Agecroft Hall to Fulton Hill Studios, the former school turned arts-studio complex.

    And it must move quickly. Performances of "The Tempest" begin July Fourth.

    Agecroft Hall, the 500-year-old English Tudor mansion in Windsor Farms, had been home to the event for three of its four seasons. But when neighbors complained that parking and crowds had become a problem, Agecroft's director said the group had to go.

    The news was a blow to Grant Mudge, Encore's artistic director. The troupe had been performing "Twelfth Night" as scheduled in the bucolic setting of Agecroft's lawn and gardens. That production closed last weekend.

    Mudge hopes Windsor Farms neighbors will welcome Encore back next year. Then, he says, perhaps the theater group can use both locations. "We want to return to Agecroft," he says. "I'm reasonably certain we'll have at least some performances there."

    But in the meantime, Mudge is thrilled to have a home: "We've found welcome, need and opportunity." The fact that it is a place as creative as Fulton Hill, he adds, is a bonus. "Plus, we have an indoor space, and that's something we haven't had before."

    Performances of "The Tempest" begin July Fourth and run through July 29. All shows will be outside unless it rains.

    "It's been a whirlwind," says Mudge. "We're a little loath to leave Agecroft, but to go to such a great space really has been a boost for the actors. Plus, there's a cat. We always feel welcome if there's a cat there." —

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