By Pete Humes
It has often been said that everything good ends up in Shockoe. While young, exciting minds are busy making cool stuff at VCU and downtown, all of the energy behind those good ideas eventually flows down to Shockoe.
Shockoe is the epicenter of everything awesome. As you walk the cobblestone streets there is a constant reminder of your current proximity to everything worth living for-local coffee shops, books, live music, beer, sushi, and more. Shockoe has attracted creative industries and entrepre- neurs, advertising agencies, recording studios, and graphic designers. There are animators, interior designers, architects, and engineers. There are inventors, technology companies, and businesses like The Martin Agency who have built an impres- sive hive in Shockoe.
Today, Shockoe spreads its energy and creativity throughout the city and around the world. Simply put, we can’t get enough of its honey.
There are tourists, joggers, and bicyclists. There is the smell of roasted coffee and freshly baked bread. There are sirens and construction crews. There is the distant roar of the James River and the vibrato of cars on cobblestones. There is the deafening click-clack, click-clack and screeching brakes of trains. There is a nonstop flow of foot traffic, car traffic, and waves of interesting humanity crashing upon the shores. In these places where there is constantly high traffic, it’s so important that local councils take precautions to keep everyone safe. There are a few ways to do this, but the most popular method seems to be Seton cones. This helps traffic to flow much easier and keeps pedestrians safe. The chaos is inspiring in a way. This is life turned up to eleven. This is where ideas come from. This is where people work together, create together, and play together.
The sense of place in Shockoe is like no other. Here great ideas are perched like jaguars in the trees and crouched like ninjas in the parking lots. Each of us is part of Shockoe, each of us adds to the vibrancy of the corridor and is the reason tourists visit, businesses stay put for decades, and locals seek out this neighborhood for inspiration.
By Anika Imajo
Characterized by aging storefronts and marvelous warehouses that recall the bustling commerce of days past, Manchester remains home to thriving ventures in manufacturing, design, creativity, and hospitality. Some of the new businesses like the same day courier services like EcoSpeed are well ahead of time when it comes to being environmentally friendly.
Some of these entities are new to the picturesque enclave of industry that lies across the river from downtown Richmond. Some have steadily plied their trades in the area for generations. And many are working together to build upon the once independent city’s identity as a center for innovation and enterprise.
“We’ve always felt that there is something to be gained from approaching even your competitors and realizing the strengths and weaknesses of each of the different companies,” explains Hinmaton Hisler, who with Christopher Hildebrand set up shop in Old Manchester in 2003.
The recipient of Richmond’s Department of Economic and Community Development 2012 Enterprise Zone Award, Tektonics Design Group is a multi-faceted design and fabrication firm whose projects include the stunning stainless steel and bronze kinetic globe at the University of Richmond’s Carol Weinstein International Center and a magnificent sculpture display at a winery in Napa Valley. Its Stijl Cycles enterprise, spearheaded by Hisler, crafts custom bicycle frames for consumers ranging from mountain bikers and racers to Cirque de Soleil performers.
The company, itself born of the collective efforts of professionals from a spectrum of disciplines, has reached out to its established neighbors, such as Strickland Machine Works, Richmond Press Metals, and William’s Bridge Company, to form mutually advantageous collaborations.
And a few years ago, when Hildebrand paid a visit to nearby O.K. Foundry, Co., Inc., seeking its casting expertise for a nascent furniture design project, a particularly fruitful partnership was born. “Although Christopher initially had some ideas about products he wanted to make,” recalls James O’Neil, the Foundry’s owner and chairman, “we quickly identified some synergies between our companies with respect to fabrication processes we were using for our current customers.”
O.K. Foundry, whose engineering and architectural sand castings and restoration work grace such sites as the grounds of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, and St. John’s Church, has been an enduring fixture in the Manchester district’s industrial history since 1912.
The relationship between the fresh-faced Tektonics and the time-honored Foundry has bred a most productive symbiosis. “I guess at first we just started doing what we’d always done, but using some of the digital design and fabrication capabilities of Tektonics to make patterns. Now we have a much more integrated business approach where we are joint venturing to develop new products and even fabrication technologies with the goal of providing finished products to the market. It is now much easier getting started whenever we have a product idea and the whole process is more streamlined,” remarks O’Neil.
“We basically take a look at a particular product idea like a piece of furniture, decoration on a building, or a tool for making bicycles and try to find areas where our combined fabrication capabilities provide a distinct advantage for the product or customer. Between Tektonics and O. K. Foundry Co., Inc., we can cover a pretty extensive range-from very traditional or artisanal craft methods to the latest in 3D digital technology.”
Dave Gott, vice president of operations at Legend Brewery-a Richmond institution whose 20-year history in Manchester places it somewhere between Tektonics and the Foundry in terms of neighborhood seniority- reflects upon the early days when the brewery first planted stakes in a former machine shop in Manchester. “We certainly set a precedent by being here and we drew people to this area…I would like to think that we had a hand in making this area something.”
Crediting developers Robin Miller and Fountainhead Properties with much of Old Manchester’s transition to a burgeoning residential and generative community, O’Neil embraces the district’s future with optimism.
“I would hate to see all of the manufacturers leave Manchester, but Fountainhead Properties has done a great job of including multiple uses in the developments and has created a lot of new spaces and retail opportunities for artists and crafts people,” says Gott. “As long as the developments continue to create good spaces for creative people to live and work, I think the spirit of Manchester will still be alive.”
By Paul Karns
When we started planning Ardent, one of our first questions was where to locate the brewery. We had already decided to stay in the city, if possible, but that meant fewer building options that were properly zoned and fit our needs. We also hoped to find a location with history-a building and neighborhood that evoked a history akin to the beers we planned to brew.
We scoured the city with building owners, economic development officials, realtors, and developers. Nonetheless, we consistently found ourselves drawn back to one area-Scott’s Addition.
From a business standpoint, locating there made perfect sense. The neighborhood is at the geographical center of Richmond, close to the Fan, Museum District, Northside, and Near West End, and has excellent accessibility from all other parts of the city. In addition, there were many new and long-standing businesses, including a great many craftsmen who’d set up shop in the old industrial spaces that made up the neighborhood. And of course, the idea of being near so many new apartment and condo developments, as well as people who had begun renovating some of the row houses meant a built-in customer base. Finally, the city made a key change in city zoning to allow breweries to open in M-1 zoned areas. Previously, they could only locate in a limited number of M-2 zoned buildings.
Ultimately, though, it was a tour of the old city stables at the corner of West Clay and Summit Streets that anchored us firmly in the neighborhood. Built in 1920, the buildings evoke the feeling of the Old West by way of a Belgian monastery. We saw a clear vision of what could be built there, but our start-up budget meant we needed something more ready-made for our use. Still, we were smitten.
Something about the hybrid nature of Scott’s Addition felt right. There were Art Deco facades like the Handmade Cleaners building at West Leigh and Roseneath Streets, and gorgeous brick construction like the Seaboard Bag buildings at West Moore and Belleville, the first buildings built in the neighborhood. There were diner classics like the Dairy Bar and Moore St. Cafe and newcomers Lamplighter Summit and Lunch. Blacksmiths and distillers. Cyclists and furniture-makers. Old-school auto shops next to high- end carpenters and artists. Brewers next to cross-fit gyms. We would be part of a neighborhood coming back to life-and turning its history around.
Annexed by the city in 1914, Scott’s Addition was named for Colonel John Mayo’s son-in-law, General Winfield Scott. The area was initially planned as a residential development, but the building of railroad lines in 1919 cut off the Addition from the west and north, and the neighborhood turned industrial with pockets of housing. Before long, it was home to Mayo Field, home of the Class-B Richmond Colts minor league baseball team, a popular roller rink, and restaurants. The neighborhood was also a blue-collar, all-white community where African Americans were not welcome after dark. There are more than a few stories of rough incidents over the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s.
But much of that has changed. The return of residents in the new developments means new life for the old neighborhood. The evolution of the business community means continued growth in the city’s entrepre- neurial community. All of that means new vitality in the heart of Richmond.