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Should the city rename Jeff Davis Highway? … 

Street Talk

Should Jeff Davis Get New Name?Man Vows to Stop Gay Pride FestivalCouncil Majority For Elected-Mayor StudyAll Looks to End Well For Firehouse TheatrePhoto Firm Closes After 50 YearsFree Press Sees More Good Times Ahead

Should Jeff Davis Get New Name?

On a recent trip to Columbia, S.C., Richmonder Mike Sarahan purposely refused to look for the infamous Confederate flag at the state capitol. But he did see a familiar memorial marker. It recognizes the "Jefferson Davis Highway," and 16 miles of the same road runs right through Richmond.

Sarahan thinks it's time for the city to shed the Confederate moniker for Route 1. He'll make his pitch for the city to do just that at the Sept. 11 City Council meeting.

City Councilman Sa'ad El-Amin says he agrees "wholeheartedly" with Sarahan's proposal to rename Jeff Davis, but doesn't think a decommissioning has a good chance of getting the necessary support from Council members.

"There's a difference between decommissioning [Confederate memorials] and preventing a new piece [of the highway system]. I will always fight additions." El-Amin says if Sarahan's proposal doesn't have political viability, it has educational merit.

King Salim Khalfani, executive director of the Virginia NAACP, says the local NAACP would support a name change for the highway if there were sufficient community support. "But until then, frankly we don't have the time," says Khalfani.

Route 1 is not called Jefferson Davis Highway all through Richmond. It is named for the former Confederate president south of the river, but is called Chamberlayne Avenue to the north.

Sarahan, who is white, says Jefferson Davis is "not a man to be honored in our time." Researching speeches and writings of Davis', Sarahan says he found that even long after the Civil War Davis still was referring to black people as property in a book he was writing toward the end of his life. "Jefferson Davis was a person who just didn't get it," Sarahan says. "Ever."

Brandon Walters
Janet Giampietro contributed to this story.

Man Vows to Stop Gay Pride Festival

A Grace Street fabric merchant with a long-standing grudge against the owner of a nearby gay restaurant has started a petition to keep a gay pride festival from taking place this month.

Mark Novick, owner of Silk Trading Co. at 304 E. Grace St., vows to stop the Richmond Pride Coalition's "Takin' it to the Streets" festival from closing Grace Street from Foushee to Fourth streets Sept. 16.

"I shouldn't have to lose money in order for them to tell people they're gay," Novick says.

Sgt. Martha Robertson of the Richmond Police Department says the Richmond Pride Coalition has yet to submit an application to close the street for the festival. The application must be signed by a majority of the businesses that would be open and operating during the Saturday event. Robertson says she'll need the application at least 48 hours before the event.

Novick says his petition against the festival represents a majority of the affected businesses, and, therefore, the festival is doomed. Fifteen merchants in the four-block stretch of Grace Street including Novick had signed his petition as of early last week.

Sheila Folley, owner of The Red Door restaurant at 314 E. Grace St., signed the petition. Folley says she is not against the festival "but they need to find an area where it's not going to hurt merchants' business on Saturdays."

Richmond Pride Coalition officials say the 1 to 6 p.m. event should draw up to 2,500 people to the struggling retail corridor and boost businesses, but Novick disagrees.

"They don't spend enough money in here to warrant my cooperation," he says.

That's because of Novick's poor relations with the neighborhood's gay establishments, says Jeff Willis, owner of Godfrey's restaurant at 308 E. Grace St.

"He has a really big problem with gay people," Willis says. "He stands outside and taunts my customers."

Novick says he's no homophobe, but Willis claims he's pulled several anti-gay pranks over the years. One thing they do agree on: Novick was convicted of curse and abuse against Willis in 1998.

Novick says he offered to support the festival initially - if Willis gave him $350 to cover his fine and court costs, and if Willis wrote him a letter of apology for bringing the charges against him. But Willis declined, so he started his petition, Novick says.

Rob Morano

Council Majority For Elected-Mayor Study

A majority of City Council members say they'll vote Sept. 11 to set up a commission to study whether or not Richmond should have a popularly elected mayor.

Mayor Tim Kaine's resolution to create the commission has the backing of 4th District Councilman Joseph Brooks, who introduced a similar resolution in 1995, as well as 1st District Councilman Manoli Loupassi and 3rd District Councilman Bill Johnson.

Johnson says he's undecided about whether the city should have an elected mayor, but he'll vote for the resolution to study the issue. "I think dialogue is always a good thing, and I think letting the citizens have some input is an important part of the process," he says.

Eighth District Councilwoman Reva Trammell, who has spoken in favor of a popularly elected mayor and is expected to vote for the resolution, did not return messages seeking comment last week, but did say in a recent Style Weekly story about the issue: "If the people are for it, I'm for it."

Vice-Mayor and 5th District Councilman Rudolph McCollum and Councilwomen Delores McQuinn and Gwen Hedgepeth, of the 7th and 9th districts respectively, say they are undecided. Sixth District Councilman Sa'ad El-Amin could not be reached for comment last week.

Kaine's proposed "New Century Commission" also would make recommendations on the length of council terms, the timing of elections and other issues.

R.M.

All Looks to End Well For Firehouse Theatre

"Let me explain about the theater business," says the playhouse owner in "Shakespeare in Love."

"The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster."

The Firehouse Theatre Project's Harry Kollatz Jr. can commiserate. But he's hoping all's well that ends well come Sept. 11.

That's when City Council is set to vote on selling the former firehouse Kollatz's crew have been fixing up and performing in for the past five years.

An ordinance proposed by City Manager Calvin Jamison would sell the 1609 W. Broad St. property to Roy Sutton of Sutton Realty, who would convey it to the Firehouse Theatre Project, according to city documents.

The Firehouse Theatre Project would have 10 years to raise the $80,000 Sutton pays the city for the building. Sutton would sell it to the group at an interest rate that is "very favorable," says Mark Dray of Hunton & Williams, attorney for the Firehouse Theatre Project.

Sutton emerged as its white knight last year. After other developers approached the city offering to buy the firehouse, which would have left the theater company homeless, Sutton "came in and basically said, 'I'll buy the building for you,'" Kollatz recalls. "It was one of those show business miracles."

While the other bidders offered more for the building, Kollatz convinced Jamison and Mayor Tim Kaine that his group, which hosts numerous other arts groups and performances at the firehouse, would provide the best value to the city.

Speaking of miracles: In addition to city approval, Kollatz says the Firehouse Theatre Project also may get some major renovations and improvements to the firehouse done in time for opening night Sept. 14.

R.M.

Photo Firm Closes After 50 Years

One of Carytown's oldest businesses will close this month, but don't blame the retail district's rising rents.

Instead, it's because Louise Arnold is taking early retirement.

Arnold, 89, says she's closing her Carytown photography firm and selling the building it's occupied since Harry Truman was president.

"I hate to leave but I can't keep from getting old," she says with a laughing sigh. "What else can an old lady do?"

Arnold and Jill Pillow, owner of Old World Accents, a Christmas-themed store in Carytown, say they have agreed to a price for the building.

Arnold and her late husband, Charles, started Arnold's Photographers at home in 1939, then moved the firm to 3419 W. Cary St. in 1952.

"People lived along Cary then," she says. "There was a grocery store across the street, which was a two-way street. The traffic like everything else here has just grown. Carytown's a nice little place now."

The firm took and restored photos. Baby pictures were a big part of its early success. In recent years passport and citizenship photos accounted for a large part of its business, she says.

Charles Arnold died of pneumonia last September at 91, his wife says. He worked until three days before his death.

Next-door neighbor Garnett Blake recalls seeing Mrs. Arnold bring her husband to work each day in a wheelchair. "She rolled him in there every day for the last 10 years or so. But he came to work every day with her. Neither of them ever missed a day, as far as I could tell."

Blake, owner of Co-Ed Hair, says he's been the Arnolds' neighbor for about 20 years. "She's just a nice neighbor. Very nice. Never bothers anybody and just does her thing."

Now her thing is to take a long-delayed rest. "I've been working in pictures for 70 years," she says. "You're bound to miss it. It was my life. But it will be kind of a good miss."

R.M. Free Press Sees More Good Times Ahead

Who says the print media are dead?

Not Ray Boone. The publisher of the Richmond Free Press says his newspaper, geared predominantly toward Richmond's black community, is experiencing double-digit-percentage circulation and advertising growth, making it "an atypical newspaper, I think, in the state and across the country."

In addition to plans for renovating and moving to larger offices on Franklin Street later this year, Boone says, the Free Press is seeking to hire nine more full-time staffers (it employs about 15 full-time and 15 part-time workers now). He also plans to increase distribution in area supermarkets, other businesses and through more street boxes.

"We expect that the circulation will go as high was we want it to go," he says of the free weekly paper. "We are in a growth mode. The new offices at 5th and Franklin indicate it. The demand for our publication is another sign."

Boone says the Free Press has increased circulation from a few thousand copies years ago to about 28,000 now, driving increased ad sales: "Advertisers are beginning to understand that we are extremely effective in reaching the majority market in this city."

R.M.

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