December 27, 2016 News & Features » Cover Story


The Score 2016: Our Annual Rating of Richmond's Zeitgeist 

The things worth remembering in the year you'd like to forget.

click to enlarge SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist

+3: The Byrd shoots for a better bottom line.

The new seats are coming! The new seats are coming! Fans of the Byrd Theatre rejoiced that one of the country’s greatest cinema palaces was getting serious about implementing its most requested renovation. The board of the historic gem raised prices for its second-run shows starting in 2017 — from $1.99 to $4 a ticket — to speed the transition from the small, deteriorated and painful seats that have been known to stab a certain writer with a loose metal coil through the jeans, drawing blood. Seriously, I probably needed a tetanus shot. You can now use a credit card at the theater and there may even be some first-run movies showing up. New seats are forecast for the second quarter of the year.

+2: And the Bijou makes its debut.

Another development for film lovers, the Bijou Film Center came along — following the loss of the beloved Westhampton Theater to development. The brainchild of longtime local film veterans James Parrish and Terry Rea, the small art-house center is in a narrow ground-floor room at 304 E. Broad St. The Bijou has been booking new and old art films, interesting and challenging work, plus some beloved oldies, while building a fervent base of followers.

click to enlarge Lucy Dacus - SHO KELLAM
  • Sho Kellam
  • Lucy Dacus

+4: A homegrown voice turns up the volume.

It’s been a while since Richmond had a homegrown musical talent capture the hearts of critics and fans like 21-year-old Lucy Dacus did in 2016. A steady presence on national best-of lists, the Maggie Walker graduate with the naturally smoky vocals, intuitive guitar hooks and mature lyrics signed to her favorite label, Matador. She’s playing an increasing swath of festivals and large national clubs while readying her sophomore album for a much bigger audience.

click to enlarge SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist

-3: An artistic force gets some rest.

After four decades in higher education, Virginia Commonwealth University arts Dean Joseph H. Seipel stepped down. Known for leading the public school to top national arts rankings and galvanizing support for the hotly anticipated Institute for Contemporary Art, Seipel was a popular figure on campus, an award-winning sculptor who was roundly praised for his vision and charisma. A national search continues for his replacement, a university spokeswoman says. Riding into the sunset and returning to his own art, Seipel told Style his biggest joy was watching the “creative careers our students have undertaken.” And he’s probably never even been fed to the World Maggot onstage at a Gwar show.

click to enlarge SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist

+6: A new vision unfolds in an armory.

With racial issues at the forefront of national discussion, the opening of the newly renovated Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia felt well-timed. Museum Director Tasha Chambers knows the privilege and honor of being the only museum in Virginia, for 34 years, to focus on preserving and telling the story of being black in the Commonwealth. The museum has fresh momentum and more than double the space at the historic Leigh Street Armory to tell that story and focus on historically underrepresented history and artists.

click to enlarge Lord Linco, Cyrax and Silk Money of Divine Council. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Lord Linco, Cyrax and Silk Money of Divine Council.

+1: Rappers strike up a slick partnership.

Richmond’s diverse hip-hop scene continues working to find itself and seek validation from a national scene built around larger cities. One local group that struggled to find local support, Divine Council, found big-name out-of-town champions in Andre Benjamin (or 3000) and Erykah Badu, who helped it score a deal with Epic Records. More recently, rapper and member Silk Money led the charge with the track “Decemba (Remix)” featuring (you-guessed-it) Benjamin both directing and with a cameo appearance. The video has racked up more than 200,000 online views.

click to enlarge Peter Chang - ASH DANIEL
  • Ash Daniel
  • Peter Chang

+4: Peter picks more places for peppers.

James Beard Award finalist chef Peter Chang made lots of Richmond foodies smile and maybe salivate a little for that signature numbing hotness. In June he opened a new restaurant at the Hofheimer Building at 2816 W. Broad St. But he wasn’t done, also opening a Noodles and Dumplings concept restaurant in the Short Pump Village Shopping Center, his third in the area and ninth overall.

click to enlarge Pandora the otter. - CHRIS JOHNSON/MAYMONT
  • Chris Johnson/Maymont
  • Pandora the otter.

-4: Cute animals break our hearts.

There was JoJo, a 31-year-old female orangutan at the Metro Richmond Zoo, which described her as a “gorgeous animal with a kind and playful spirit,” who “could whistle on command.” She died. So did Maymont Park’s first river otter, Pandora, a 17-year-old described as “sweet and saucy.” A month after she died in September, because that wasn’t sad enough, so did her male companion, Neptune. And don’t get us started on the baby cheetahs. The cruel circle of life. Naturally, this is the year the General Assembly picks the eastern garter snake as Virginia’s official reptile.

click to enlarge Wegmans. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Wegmans.

+2 We have aisles to go before we sleep.

Richmond has discerning, loyal, grocery-store customers — at least among those who don’t live in food deserts and have the mobility to shop around. And the market for markets got a little more competitive when Wegmans brought its palatial foodie meccas to Midlothian and Short Pump. Lines greeted employees at each opening, and Northeasterners, from whence Wegmans hails, gushed about how long they’d waited for the chain to make it “down here.” Richmond Magazine reported Wegmans’ initial underestimation of Richmond’s love for beer, cookies and gourmet hot dogs. Seems about right. Steel yourself for the day when a young transplant to the city says, “What’s Ukrop’s?” and offers you Wegmans cheese from an obscure French province. Change never tasted so good.

click to enlarge SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist

+4: Protesters take it to the streets.

Black Lives Matter, Confederate monuments, public school funding, a minimum wage, Dominion Resources’ environmental impact, Trump: You might try to avoid those topics at holiday dinners, but they’re conversations that have to happen somewhere.

Protesters worked overtime to bring their key issues to the public consciousness. Love them or hate them, it’s hard to argue against what the demonstrations often generate — discussion and civic dialogue. In a year when people weren’t always listening to each other, there was plenty of need for that.

“I definitely have seen more collaboration and coalition building in Virginia among progressive activists,” says Whitney Whiting, who marched for rivers, sat in at the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality against coal ash wastewater and took part in general anti-Trump rallies.

“I know that, for a lot of folks, especially around the election, it was mostly about letting people know that we don’t stand for the racist, misogynist, sexist platform that [Trump’s] been lifted up on,” she says of protester motivations.

It also was a chance to disrupt the machinations of the powerful, to declare average people stakeholders. Some protests saw measured successes when it came to coal ash pond permits for Dominion, and Whiting cites the presidential inauguration as the next opportunity to make voices heard: “I think it’s a sign of more to come in 2017.”

click to enlarge Townley Haas - ASH DANIEL
  • Ash Daniel
  • Townley Haas

Richmond embraces its golden boy.

Michael Phelps is retiring. Ryan Lochte is a jerk. And Richmond has their replacement. Townley Haas swam into our lives at the Olympics in Rio, bringing home a gold medal in the men’s 4x200 meter freestyle relay with Phelps, Lochte and Conor Dwyer.

Haas widened a 0.11-second lead to 2.07 seconds — a gaping advantage by swimming standards. This was after his surprise victory in the 200-meter freestyle at the U.S. Olympic trials in June.

The polite 20-year-old from Henrico County seems sure to avoid the pot-smoking, drunken scandals of his teammates. He swims now as a University of Texas sophomore. A Benedictine College Preparatory grad, Haas also lent his name to gun-violence prevention since his sister’s injury at the hands of the Virginia Tech shooter. Now we just have to wait another three and a half years for people to care about swimming again.

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+6: A mighty wind continues to propel cycling.

Drafting behind 2015, cycling in Richmond capitalized on its inertia. More bikers took to trails and streets for recreation, commuting and sport.

RVAMore continued its quiet, volunteer efforts to improve the mountain biking trails around the James River. The city had a victory with its popular T. Tyler Potterfield Bridge for bikers and walkers. Breakaway RVA turned bike advocacy into a social activity. The Virginia Capital Trail saw more than 600,000 riders since it opened in October 2015, and two businesses, bike rentals at Kickstand and guided tours at Basket & Bike, started capitalizing on it.

Craig Dodson continues to train the next generation of cyclists and advocates at Richmond Cycling Corps, bringing national attention to his work with at-risk youth as a CNN Heroes finalist. The B bike-share project is in the works. A bike shop and grocery, Outpost, took root in Forest Hill. I Am RVA continued selling mirror-finish bike helmets to benefit local charities. The Floyd Avenue bike boulevard opened in May. And more than 20 miles of new bike lanes are on the docket for 2017, including one that gets cyclists safely through Franklin Street into downtown. Chesterfield County passed ordinances to further its bikeways and trails plan. Even Henrico County is getting in on the action, painting its first-ever bike lane.

Cycling was an electoral issue too, with mayoral and council candidates compelled to answer questions about bike policy. And UCI, the organization that brought the 2015 and 2014 races to town, has another one coming to Virginia next year — city yet to be determined — and just in time to remind us what a peloton is.

Cycling has proven it isn’t a fad that needs a gaggle of spandex-clad athletes to flourish. A tail wind cometh.

click to enlarge SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist

+2 Transit cheerleaders make big promises.

Never has a bus had quite the marketing team. Starting with a public naming contest last year and culminating with a role in the recent Christmas parade, the Pulse has benefited from its team of cheerleaders and transit nerds at every turn.

You can watch its moves too, via the world’s most boring live cam on GRTC Transit System’s website, documenting construction progress at Allison and Broad streets, which started in mid-August. It should get a little more exciting before October, when the bus rapid-transit line is scheduled to launch.

Then, 10 buses will zoom between Willow Lawn and Rocketts Landing in half an hour, fueled by compressed natural gas. It will connect people to jobs, retail, groceries and, most importantly, the dozens of restaurants and breweries a short walk from the route.

There are 38 seats per bus, space for three bikes, 14 stations and 7.6 miles — OK, maybe it is kind of exciting. And if you focus on all the stats, it’s harder to be anxious that the $53 million project won’t attract the riders GRTC needs to continue expanding its transit vision for the region. No pressure, Pulse.

click to enlarge Stone Brewing - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Stone Brewing

+4: Fulton rides the beer wave.

Rocketts Landing may be in Henrico County, just out of tax reach, but Richmond hopes to get all the residents’ beer money. Stone Brewing opened its large tasting room in February and has started to make good on its economic promise. Only 24 more years on that lease to see if Richmond will come out on top of this one! A few blocks away — a 15-minute walk from the easternmost stop of the Pulse — homegrown Triple Crossing Brewery expanded its operations into Fulton with a second spot. Between Stone and Triple, that’s a quarter of a million square feet of beer production and consumption added to the neighborhood that was devastated by a 1970s urban-renewal program by the city. We suppose this is one way to start making things right.

click to enlarge Sylvester Barksdale, right, offers comfort to Noah Maqsher, a close friend of homicide victum Habeeb “Sam” Hafeed. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Sylvester Barksdale, right, offers comfort to Noah Maqsher, a close friend of homicide victum Habeeb “Sam” Hafeed.

-8: A rising number becomes a sobering reminder.

“This has been a trying year for us in the city,” Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham said during a memorial service for homicide victims in December. At the time, the number was 58. Now it’s 60.

One recent victim, Lakim L. Booker, had been arrested last year in connection with the murder of William Crutchfield. Booker served time for a weapons charge and was released this year. But he was killed at 21, ending a short life of crime, incarceration and violence.

Richmond’s numbers are an increase from 40 in 2015, but nowhere near the murder-capital years of the ’90s. (There were 161 in 1994.) Homicides have increased across the country and no one is really sure why.

Durham’s department has been dogged in the face of understaffing and funding struggles. A tip line for illegal guns has yielded gains, and a focus on community policing is admirable. But even Durham knows how easy it is to get weapons in the city. “We have to take the guns out of the kids’ hands,” he says.

click to enlarge SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist

+1: The kid stays in the picture.

Look at the energy, the vitality, the sheer youthful spirit! Levar Stoney’s glossy campaign ads had him running through the city and lifting weights. And when the exhausting, no-elbow-room mayor’s race came to a close, youth trumped experience — never mind Jack Berry touting his been-there bona fides and Joe Morrissey back-hand complimenting Stoney with his “nice young man” lines. At 35, Stoney becomes the 80th mayor of Richmond — and the youngest in recent memory. He fought hard, led thousands of door knocks, leveraged insider connections to key Democratic donors and kept smiling. And in a year of ugly politics, an astonishing presidential campaign and a public that barely trusts any public official, a smile is a good place to start.



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