Short Order 

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Sugar-Coating Downtown

Al Mercer would like you to try his homemade sweet-potato pie. Or his chocolate cake, layered with satin icing. Or virtually anything in the glass case at the front of his business, Main Street Mocha. It opened this summer and sits, sparkling and fresh, ready for a weekday business crowd to find it.

"You open the doors and you hope there will be a long line of people waiting to get in," Mercer says of expectations that hum in the heads of every new restaurant owner. Reality, though, is a different thing, and this longtime food company executive hopes that cooler weather and another spread-the-flier campaign in downtown offices will do the trick.

Mercer and his wife, Roxanne, opened their coffee café in a former embroidery shop as part of a long-held dream. She brings in fresh flowers for the tables each week; he makes the soups, desserts and sandwiches that complement the welcoming décor. Turkey-jack paninis and the Cajun chicken breast sandwiches are hits so far -- not to mention a free ice-cream-cone-with-purchase policy that lasts through September. The business, at 1110B E. Main St., is open weekdays from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. 225-9885.

Out in Goochland County, Jodine Duffy can relate. Her Javajodi's Coffee Café opened this summer at 2918 River Road West, and is the first full-service coffee shop in the county. Diners can see the day's menu online (www.javajodiscoffeecafe.com) and can pick up Carytown Coffee by the pound, along with boxed lunches, soups and a concise selection of quiches, salads, pastries and sandwiches. It's all served with the occasional accompaniment of a classical cellist. The wi-fi equipped shop is open daily, and is located near the courthouse in what's becoming a busy part of town with the weekly farmers' market and a surge in population. 556-7979.

Nightmare on Main Street

A reader responds to a recent column about what Richmond wants after dark:

"You had asked what type of nightlife would attract business to the Bottom. What I and all of my group want is not anything different than what is already being offered, it is improvement on what is being offered, with the main component being parking and free parking. Everyone in the West End I talk to wonders why no one gets it.

"Many times we have tried to patronize the restaurants in the Bottom but couldn't find parking, or the parking that was available was on side streets was not particularly enticing to walk back to late at night for a bunch of suburban women, or we didn't want to pay $10 in parking to have a drink after work.

"We would also like to see more bicycle or walking policeman. Fear is still keeping people from coming down and the bars and the restaurants that are there need to clean themselves up. Most just look kind of scruffy. If they want to attract a wider range of consumers who will have an average tab of $30-$40 per person rather than the college student with a $10 tab, then clean up, have patrolmen visible and get some convenient parking! It is simple! If it is safe and clean, they will come!" — Stormy Hamlin

Well Stormy, take note: As of late August, Richmond police got orders to step up patrols in Shockoe Bottom, and some merchants are working on solutions to the parking dilemma because this is the complaint they hear most often, from Carytown to Church Hill. (Shockoe Slip has tackled the issue with free parking, $1 parking and valet parking in certain areas.) As they fight off the suburban franchise mentality, many realize that those vast, treeless shopping mall parking lots are often what separates red and black on the bottom line. S

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