Food desert no more: ‘get fresh’ program brings fruits and vegetables to the East End

Originally published July 19, 2013 on RVAnews.com.

Some East End community members will no longer have to travel far to look for healthy produce options after the debut of the Get Fresh East End! Initiative’s launch this week in two area corner stores.

GetFresh

The program, modeled after the national Healthy Corner Stores Initiative, works to help community food deserts by providing healthy produce and education to areas without major grocery stores. The collaborative work of many city leaders, including members of City Council, Bon Secours, the Richmond City Health District, and TriCycle Gardens, ‘Get Fresh’ is funded by the Virginia Department of Health. TriCycle Gardens along with Shalom Farms helped provide the produce that will be supplied in two East End test stores: The Clay Street Market and Valero Market.

But TriCycle’s produce debuted in the Clay Street Market corner store about three months ago, said the store’s business manager Hamod “Shawn” Algaheim. Beginning with a small, short refrigerator that looks more well suited for Red Bull cans than fruits and vegetables, the ‘get fresh’ program started selling the local produce before the program’s official public launch this week and has already helped the community.GetFresh-Fridge

Algaheim said his business has somewhat improved since the introduction of the ‘get fresh’ refrigerator in his family’s store. “A lot of customers are excited to see it,” he said. Algaheim has been managing family-owned business for the last 20 years and says he is even improving his own diet because of the new produce.

“It will benefit the community because these are healthy items, it’s close to home for a lot of people,” he said. “Instead of going to a big market to get [these foods] they go up to the corner store and pick out what they want.”

Parts of the Seventh District, which encompasses the Church Hill neighborhood and much of the East End, are considered food deserts, areas where there is little access to stores with enough options to sustain a healthy diet.

“Many of our residents throughout the city die too early and too often from very treatable, preventable conditions and obesity predisposes a community for a variety of issues,” said Seventh District City Councilwoman Cynthia Newbille. “That’s the challenge. The good news is folks have come together to do something about it.”

Clay Street Market is located at 501 N 30th Street in the Church Hill neighborhood; the Valero Market is located at 2003 Williamsburg Road in Fulton. Both stores are open daily.

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UR President receives a 2012 National Humanities Medal

Originally published July 10, 2013 on RVAnews.com.

University of Richmond President Edward L. Ayers, Ph. D., is being honored at the White House today with a 2012 National Humanities Medal. President Obama will present Ayers and 11 others the award for their work in influencing the understanding and preservation of humanities nationally.

Ayers, a renowned Civil War historian and higher education expert, is being recognized for his “commitment to making our history as widely available and accessible as possible,” according to a statement by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The North Carolina native fell in love with history and teaching during his undergraduate studies at the University of Tennessee and has written and edited 10 books.

“There’s a radically democratic purpose behind all that I do…When you see what the humanities have to offer, you want to share them as broadly as you can,” Ayers told Donna Lucey of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Ayers spent over 25 years as professor then later college dean at the University of Virginia before entering his current post as president of University of Richmond in July 2007. The historian is also known for his work in the development of American Civil War digital history project “The Valley of the Shadow” and the digital mapping project “Visualizing Emancipation,” currently evolving at UR.

“The humanities changed my life, and I’m just trying to make it as useful to people as possible.”

Sports writer Frank Deford, political scientist Robert D. Putnam, and actress Anna Devere Smith are among others selected for the national award today. Natalie Zemon Davis of the University of Toronto is the only other historian being recognized.

 

Drive-ins resurfacing across the Virginia

Originally published July 10, 2013 on RVAnews.com

Drive-in

Goochland Drive-In Theater owners John and Kristina Heidel have known this for years: drive-in movie theaters are not arcane artifacts of the past. Although they may be in short supply, drive-ins may be making a comeback in Virginia (and nationally) as cheaper, alternative ways of catching summer flicks.

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Although the theater is having its busiest season yet,1 it has been nothing but an uphill climb for the owners of the now 4-year-old drive-in.

“It’s the hardest thing I ever did,” said John Heidel. “But it’s the best job I’ve ever had, and to find the best job I ever had I had to create it.”

Heidel started the Goochland theater in 2004 after taking his family to a regular multiplex movie became costly and aggravating. Heidel’s dream theater combined vintage-Americana style with an updated atmosphere for families at an affordable price.

“A drive-in is a tailgating atmosphere for families,” Heidel said.

The world’s first drive-in opened in 1933 in Camden, New Jersey. Drive-ins reached their peak in the 1950s with over 4,000 theaters nationally. Between 1947 and the late 1980s, the Richmond area had as many as eight drive-ins for locals to visit during warm months with family and friends for cheap prices.2

But by the 1980s, drive-ins had significantly declined around the county. Problems like rising property costs, and the inventions of the VCR, HBO, and cable all contributed to the decline in the drive-in across the states. To save money, some theaters used their open lots for flea markets on the weekends, and some theaters even turned to X-rated movies to stay in business.

One Richmond Times-Dispatch writer in 1983 described drive-ins as “towering, monolithic screens, undulating parking lots and promise of anonymity.” In the 1980s these became the “struggling hangers-on” of a dying era when “not even the lure of dark isolation in the back of a station wagon can compete with cable television,” wrote Bill McKelway.

Now less than 360 drive-ins operate across the country, including nine in Virginia, according to the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association.

Driveins.org site director Randall Kunkell spent nearly 10 years collecting information on drive-ins around a handful of east coast states, spending weekends and holidays from his job with the Alexandria Postal Service traveling the region looking for information on this dying tradition.

“I always had sort of a fascination with drive-ins themselves,” Kunkell said. “This was something that was was going to vanish in a few years…I thought how much of this was around my area that I could document.”

But even with some contemporary challenges (like the inevitable digital transition), these independent theaters are making somewhat of a comeback lately. An average ticket for a multiplex cinema at a corporate theater can cost upwards of $12, with concessions costing roughly $5 – $10 a head for popcorn and a soda. An average ticket at the Goochland Drive-In Theater is only $8 for adults, and $3.50 for kids.

Moviegoers show up around 6:45 PM, snack on typical movie-theater fare at the concessions, play games in their cars or toss a football before the sun goes down and the screen lights up. Nothing at the theater costs more than $3.75 including drinks, a large popcorn, and even the famous Goochdog (hotdog topped with macaroni-n-cheese, so good!).

Goochdog

But choosing to keep prices down for feature attendees isn’t easy for the business owners. The Goochland theater charges less for admission and in concessions, and pays more to have first-run digital movies shown on his 40’ by 80’ screen. Heidel also invested in a top-of-the-line digital projector this year to stay ahead of the 35 mm film phase-out that has put other theaters across the country out of business.

“We’re going to sacrifice (profit margin) for this dream; to make it affordable, make it clean, make it fun.”

Four drive-ins have opened in Virginia since their nationwide decline started: the Park Place Drive-In in Marion; the Goochland Drive-In Theater, the Mayberry Drive-In (which doubles as a diner) in Moneta, and the Keysville Drive-In Theatre.3

Although Kunkell predicts an eventual decline in independent theaters across the country (either from the dreaded digital transition or lack of interest in the market), hopefuls like Heidel are eager to stay positive.

“It’ll still be the best value around,” Heidel said. “As long as they’re making movies and people want to see movies and people want to spend time with family and friends and…save money they’re going to come to a drive-in.”

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DRIVE-IN TIPS

Arrive early. Getting a good space to see the show is really important, and the lots can fill up quickly–even on a weekday–so arrive at least two hours before the show.

Bring chairs & blankets. You can sit in your car during the show, but it’s more fun to sit in lawn or camping chairs and talk to the other people in the lot during the downtime. Just turn up your radio and enjoy the night air with the hundreds of other moviegoers.

Bring games, frisbee, football, or corn hole. You may be worried about what to do for the 2+ hours before the show, so either bring something to do or spend the time catching up with neighbors and chowing down at the concession stand.

Bring an appetite. Most theaters don’t allow outside food or drink (even the outdoors ones), because most profits come from concessions. The Goochland Drive-In’s concessions have everything from popcorn and sodas to snow cones and the Goochdog.

Be courteous and quiet once the show starts. It’s still a movie, after all.

FOOTNOTES

  1. The Goochland Drive-In Theater recently held as many as 416 cars at one time. 
  2. The first drive-in to open in Richmond was the Broadway Drive-in in 1947. The Broadway operated from 1947-1973 and could hold as many as 504 cars, although now it has turned into the Olde Towne Shopping Centre. Over the years, the Twin Pines, Sunset, Southside Plaza, Fairfield, and Patterson drive-ins all opened, but by 1983 (36 years after the first opening in Richmond) only three drive-ins remained: the Bellwood, The Rosebowl (known for showing X-rated movies), and the Airport. 
  3. The Keysville Drive-In Theatre reopened in 2009 after closing its gates for nearly 10 years. 

A summer sans booze: Five ways to celebrate summer alcohol-free

Originally published July 08, 2013 on RVAnews.com

Beer and summer can go hand in hand, but sipping brews by the pool isn’t the only way to enjoy warm summer days with your friends.

Here are some fun, active things you can try this summer that are just as cool without a buzz.

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CYCLING

If you’re a more casual rider looking for an easy ride around the city, riding to your favorite restaurant or museum can be a fun way to spend the afternoon and get some exercise. You can also take the opportunity to explore on two wheels the places around the city that you might not have checked out before. Riding a bike can make you more familiar with your neighborhood and eliminates the parking problem experienced by some of your automotive counterparts.

The Richmond Area Bicycling Association hosts regular “Pedal and Pizza” nights that combine an evening of casual riding with community. Also check out rides other Richmonders have done in the area, look up popular Virginia Bike routes, and find downloadable maps of places to bike around Virginia.

MOVIES

Summer may be about spending time outside and enjoying the weather, but sometimes mother nature likes to mix it up. For an evening inside, take in a summer blockbusters, or the Byrd Theatre in Carytown shows movies at 7:15 PM and 9:45 PM everyday for $2 a ticket. Grab some popcorn and a friend and enjoy a flick you may have missed the first time it hit the big screen.

Tired of the silver screen? The Ethyl Imax Dome & Planetarium at the Science Museum of Virginia shows educational films Tuesday – Sunday for about $9 a ticket.

FUEL YOUR HABIT

Going to a bar can be stuffy, loud, and overrated. Use this summer as an opportunity to check out new or unexplored coffee shops that can offer a relaxed social atmosphere with none of that bar scene hype. Some shops, like Crossroads and GlobeHopper, frequently offer live music and events.

MUSEUMS

Have you checked out Boost at the Science Museum yet? The latest permanent exhibit is a mix of fun science, health, and finding out weird stuff about your body. You’ll practically forget you’re learning anything really as you jump around the 26 interactive stations within the exhibit.

SPA DAY

Spending the whole weekend on the town at restaurants and bars can get expensive. Instead of racking up a tab that might make you feel queasy for more than one night, spend the money treating yourself to a massage or therapeutic treatment!

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Still looking for other things to do this summer? Don’t forget First Fridays, hunting for hot new looks at Need Supply, volunteering for Feed More, and weekend kickball leagues.

Fireworks & safety: Know the law

Originally published July 03, 2013 on RVAnews.com

If you want to brighten your Independence Day celebration with these fiery explosives be very careful about where and what kind of fireworks you’re getting into.

In Virginia, fireworks that explode and rise into the air are 100% illegal; these include firecrackers, roman candles, torpedoes, and bottle rockets. In Richmond (as well as in Chesterfield and Henrico counties), fireworks of any kind (including our childhood favorite, sparklers) are also absolutely prohibited. The penalties for breaking these laws can include fines up to $2,500 and jail time.

Although most surrounding counties do allow some “safe and sane” fireworks, if you chose to go outside city limits to have some fun, you should be aware of the laws in your area and some general safety tips.

The National Council on Fireworks Safety recommends the following fireworks safety tips

  • Parents and caretakers should always closely supervise teens if they are using fireworks.
  • Parents should not allow young children to handle or use fireworks.
  • Fireworks should only be used outdoors.
  • Always have water ready if you are shooting fireworks.
  • Know your fireworks. Read the caution label before igniting.
  • Obey local laws. If fireworks are not legal where you live, do not use them.
  • Alcohol and fireworks do not mix.
  • Wear safety glasses whenever using fireworks.
  • Never relight a “dud” firework. Wait 20 minutes and then soak it in a bucket of water.
  • Soak spent fireworks with water before placing them in an outdoor garbage can.
  • Avoid using homemade fireworks or illegal explosives: they can kill you!
  • Report illegal explosives, like M-80s and quarter sticks, to the fire or police department

FIREWORKS LEGAL IN MOST SURROUNDING COUNTIES:

  • sparklers
  • fountains
  • pinwheels
  • snapping caps
  • Pharaoh’s serpents

If unsure about what your fireworks are legal in your area, check your county’s website or ask your area retailer.

Spoken4: local couple brings pedicabs to Richmond

Originally published July 02, 2013 on RVAnews.com

After a busy first couple of weeks pedaling the streets and raising eyebrows for their new company, Katie Hurst and Kyle Langemeier of pedicab company Spoken4 are off to a good start.

Spoken4

A new pedicab company launched on June 20th says business is off to a very good, but hectic start.

“It’s just a little bit of a learning curve on our part too see what processes are going to work the best and how drivers report back to us what’s going to work out,” Hurst said.

Spoken4, a new alternative to traditional taxi service in the city, takes patrons through Carytown, the Fan, and into Shockoe Bottom in rickshaws. Although still working out the pricing structure, an average ride costs about $10 and taxis accept both cash and credit payment. Hurst and Langemeier were inspired by pedicabs in Charleston, SC and thought a similar concept in Richmond might aid the transportation issue the city faces.

“(Spoken4) is an effort to bring a better form of transportation that’s also kind of fun and really target that sort of younger working type that wants to go from point A to point B but doesn’t necessarily want to go the 10 blocks in a car,” co-owner Katie Hurst said.

As a senior account manager at Madison+Main, Hurst juggled her full-time marketing job with developing her business idea late this spring with her boyfriend Langemeier. The business is currently based inside of Hurst’s home, and the couple trades off day-to-day duties. “It’s a lot, but it’s all fun,” Hurst said.

In only a few short months, the pair formed their business plan, ordered a set of American-made cabs from California-based company VIP Pedicab and announced on Mothers Day that they would be fully operational by summer.

 

“One of the things I’ve learned is if you don’t take a risk you’ll never know, so you kind of just have to try and get out there, and that’s what we’re doing,” Hurst said.

Spoken4 currently has five pedicabs in operation nearly every night around the city. Each cab weighs 190 lbs, Hurst said, and although she won’t be taking people around on cabs herself, she’ll be working behind the scenes each night to organize her drivers and dispatch the bikes.

“We’re just excited and we hope that everyone else is as excited to have us here as we are to be here.”

 

You can tweet, text, or call Spoken4 for a ride during their regular hours.

COVERAGE MAP

Surviving summer: a look at local businesses around VCU

Originally published July 01, 2013 on RVAnews.com

Despite the heat, the diminished student population, and the now endless stream of construction projects around the VCU area, local businesses are doing surprisingly well during the “off season.”

Five years ago this wouldn’t have been the case, Patrick Godfrey of Velocity Comicssays. During his first few years in business, Godfrey said nearly half of all his customers came from the VCU community. “When summer would hit a lot of them would disperse and we’d just have to hunker down and kind of hibernate,” Godfrey said.

But over the years, many local business have developed a steady customer base that they say is unique to the community outside of and around VCU.

Owner Luke Stevens of Bunnyhop Bike Shop says that although he is dependent on the VCU community, his business doesn’t disappear completely during the summer months because demand for bike products and services remains somewhat constant.

“People that need service on their bike are pretty much just going to get it regardless,” he said. “There’s still a ton of people here and we don’t really see a huge drop in business.”

Even though Bunny Hop and VCU have a good relationship (including contracts with VCU Police, the school’s outdoor adventure center, and their sustainability program), Stevens says the construction around his business is making the summer months harder than usual.

“The construction has really been the most trying thing so far,” Stevens said. “With the street closures, graduations at the Siegel Center, and essentially the entire front wall of our business has been blocked off … It’s wild.”

But despite the summer months and the pressures around irksome construction, “We probably would not be a profitable business without them,” Stevens said.

Across the street, Ipanema owner Kendra Feather says that the university expansion has had mixed effects on her business.

“VCU is kind of growing around us,” Feather said.

Feather said that in the beginning, her business was not at all dependent on the VCU community, but as the university started growing around her it became harder for people who weren’t a part of the VCU world to come to the restaurant.

“Sometimes summer is actually better for us.”

Little Mexico, a staple Mexican restaurant in the VCU community also feels the effects of the university’s presence (or lack thereof) during the summer.

“We depend on (the students) coming in…a lot,” said owner Rosie Garcia. “We definitely notice a change and a shift from when they come here and when they’re in the summer.”

But even with a lack of students, the business is able to fare well during the summer months, according to Garcia. The range of daily specials and the developing community of customers in the Fan has been able to sustain Little Mexico during the summer, which Garcia said is a big part of why she choses to stay near to campus.

“Everyday we have something different so we try to cater not only to VCU students but to people that work in offices and…that live in this area,” she said. “I think that we’ve kind of adapted to being in this area and the people and being so accepted in this community that I would not want to be in any other location.”

Businesses like Garcia’s and Godfreys still look forward to the students coming back in the fall. The two busiest times for Velocity Comics are late August and September, when most students return for the new semesters.

“When the kids come back they’ve got student loan money in their pocket ready to burn, and it’s a beautiful time,” Godfrey said.

Bunnyhop Bike Shop plans to move to 349 S. Laurel in Oregon Hill on August 1 to continue to expand at an affordable price.