I grew up in the Richmond area, and recently moved back as an adult, this time to an apartment downtown. Here are some of my observations about living in the Virginia state capital.
1. People Start Conversations
Within the first two days of moving back to Richmond, there were multiple cashiers, people waiting behind me in line, salespeople, and other random individuals about town who knew all the details about me moving to Richmond. They knew that I was from Miami, had grown up in the Richmond suburbs, missed the Florida weather, loved the cheap rent, and that I had a fluffy white cat.
I’m not the most outgoing, talkative person, especially around strangers. But people in Richmond just somehow make you feel comfortable beginning a conversation. People standing next to you waiting to cross the street will smile at you. Baristas compliment you and ask you about your day, in such a way that convinces you that they actually want to know.
I still can’t quite explain how I end up having so many conversations with strangers when I go out in Richmond. It just happens.
2. You Can Explore, Tourist Free
Unlike in Miami or New York, for example, there aren’t exactly crowds of tourists choking the streets here. With a few exceptions of course, everyone walking around is a local. Whenever I try to pull out my phone to get walking directions downtown, without fail someone will stop me and ask where I’m trying to go.
Even the more “touristy” places in Richmond, like the Civil War historical sites and museums, the Capital Building, or the trails along the James River are populated either by locals out jogging or walking their dogs, or by school field trip groups. And they’re generally pretty quiet, even on weekends.
3. The Seasons Are Important
I remember this quite strongly from my childhood as well, but only reflected on it recently – the seasons mean a lot here.
I mean, there are actually city-planned events for Groundhog Day. I never heard that “holiday” mentioned once in Miami.
In the winter, everyone holds their breath for the first snow (and hopes it’ll be a white Christmas), drinks hot chocolate, wears snowflake sweaters, and have fires burning in their fireplaces.
They get excited in the springtime about wearing pastel, cheerful colors, and marvel over the first tulip buds, like a ritual.
People throw water-themed outdoor parties in the summer, have late night barbecues, eat watermelon, and go strawberry picking.
And then there’s fall. It’s like a three-month celebration. People go crazy over the beautiful fall leaves, pumpkins (everything to do with pumpkins), apple picking in the mountains, and the cooler weather. And I have to say, people in Richmond really have their fall earth-tones and cozy clothes down to a fine art.
4. It Doesn’t Feel Safe
Maybe it’s because I spent my childhood here, but I’ve always seen Richmond as a conservative, family-friendly place. Well it turns out, that isn’t quite true. Everyone always mentions the fact that it used to be the country’s “murder capital.” Even if that is no longer the case, I was taken aback by the negative undertones and insecurity I feel walking around the city.
My instinct, walking around Richmond, is more on edge than in other places. I didn’t even feel completely comfortable carrying around my more professional camera in the daytime.
A big part of this is the constant, grating catcalling that is extremely prevalent here. In Miami, I could walk around all day long and never experience this. But in Richmond, you get men leering and calling over to you and reaching out to grab you all the time. In the mere five minutes that it takes to walk to my sister’s apartment, I will inevitably be catcalled at least once or twice, often more. I’ve had men reach out to grab me, walk directly alongside me making loud kissing noises without shame, yell out explicit sexual remarks, loudly comment on my body as if I can’t hear them, and so much more. Being in a group (with other girls) doesn’t help. Wearing no makeup and baggy clothes doesn’t help. It’s simply the culture.
I never walk around at night in Richmond, and neither does my sister. I know that you have to be alert and aware in most cities, but I feel very uncomfortable about Richmond a lot of the time.
My sister gave me an excellent tip about keeping up to date by subscribing for VCU Alerts on your phone. Even if you aren’t a student, you can sign up as a “parent,” and receive texts about areas to avoid, recent crime, and things to know.
5. History – Especially Civil War History
Richmond, one of the oldest state capitals in the United States, is a place rich in local history. Before European civilization, it was the site of a prominent Powhatan Native American village – as in, the backyard of my favorite Disney character, Pocahontas. And who can forget that during the Civil War, Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy.
The prominent focus of history here is placed upon the Civil War. It is a huge part of being from Richmond – even bigger than obsessing over fall. People talk endlessly about the Civil War. They debate over it. They write books about it, have seminars on it, display Civil War history books before all others in the bookstores, and have articles and letters to the editor about it in the Richmond Times Dispatch. I grew up hearing a lot about it, always.
Once a local radio station was talking about the (then recently released) Lord of the Rings movies, and invited listeners to call in and discuss them. A guy called – and tried to hijack the conversation onto the topic of the Civil War!
I read an article once about cliches attributed to every U.S. state. Virginia got the cliche of “Civil War re-enactment fanatics.” I had to laugh.
Similar to the advice that you should never start opining about politics in a bar, in Richmond, that should be replaced with “never start talking about the Civil War.” It’ll be a long night.
6. It’s Easy to Get to Other Places
I love that living in Richmond, you have so much variety in near-by cities and towns to see, and geographical locations to visit. If you’d like to go to the beach, Virginia Beach is just under 2 hours away (though other Virginian beach towns are closer). The beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains are even closer. And many states are close by – Virginia shares borders with Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and West Virginia. A one-way bus ticket to Washington D.C. can be found for as little as $10, and trains to New York and many other cities are cheaply priced.
And, if you’re lucky enough to find direct flights, nearly all of the major cities on the eastern side of the United States can be reached in a mere two hours. Miami, Atlanta, New York, and Chicago are two hours or less away.
Richmond is a perfect geographic gateway between the southeast and the northeast.
People in Richmond are very into biking – something that I really noticed when I moved back. My first boyfriend, when I was an older teenager, was a bike mechanic. My first roommate owned a bike that cost him over $1k. Driving down Carey Street with my sister, I spotted seven bike shops in a very small radius. People know the difference between street bikes and mountain bikes – don’t you? They paint enormous murals of bike races everywhere – alongside highways, on buildings, inside buildings.
The Richmond Bike Race was held in the city in September of 2015, and Richmonders were driven into a frenzy of excitement over it. There were many other, more local bike races organized after it, resulting in traffic delays and chaos for drivers.
Richmond is full of indie coffee shops, non-chain restaurants, vintage clothing boutiques, and other such establishments. Walking into these places, you really get a sense of their character. People go out of their way to be unique and quirky.
This extends to the music scene as well, with a lot of support for local artists or garage bands. Richmond is also apparently a major “hipster” location.
9. Look Where You’re Walking
The sidewalks here are very uneven, broken, and cracking. The occasional cobblestone or brick sidewalks and pathways are even more difficult to walk on, having either drifted apart or pushed up against each other until the street resembles wrinkled sheets.
If you are considering traversing the city in stilettos, just don’t.
Also, while I have seen dozens of city employees out ticketing cars parked on the street for over two hours, I have never seen a single person cleaning up the sidewalks. And with no public trash cans in sight, you can imagine that sometimes the streets get a bit dirty.
10. College Town
I don’t think that people normally think of students and a “college town” atmosphere when they imagine Richmond, but the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) is a large school located right downtown. Many of the buildings of the Richmond skyline are VCU-related, and the city has a prevalent college student population.
If you look 25 or younger, everyone will assume that you are a student. It happens to me all the time.
Those are 10 of my thoughts on living in Richmond! What are some of your observations?
Watch my video about exploring Richmond.