Oh, yeah. Now I remember: Richmond was the “Lost Colony,” right? The place where everyone went ‘poof’ and disappeared?
Yikes. You are thinking of Roanoke. Nice try (sort of)!
What was I thinking?! Richmond was the place where they burned all those witches, of course!
Wow, that’s just … wow. You’re not even in the right state anymore, history buff. Salem, Massachusetts was the site of the witchcraft trials … and I’m thinking this Q&A thing was a bad idea. How about we just take the reins from here?
Richmond: A Sneak Peek at “The River City”
Richmond may never have torched any “witches” or seen its population disintegrate into thin air, but the city does have a fascinating history of its own. Founded in 1737, it is one of America’s most tenured cities and played critical roles in both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. But you’re not here for a history lesson, we know. You want to hear about Richmond in the here and now. So here are a few facts of life you should know about the city in the 21st century:
- Richmond is a mishmash: You may not think of Virginia as much of a melting pot, but you’ll find plenty of cultural and ethnic diversity in Richmond. Traditionally a hub for black American culture and commerce (African-Americans account for roughly half the population), Richmond is also home to a growing number of politicos wanting easy access to D.C.
Two major colleges (Virginia Commonwealth University and University of Richmond) call the city home, and college students make up ten percent of the population. Recent years have also seen an increase in the number of Hispanic residents (11,000-plus now reside in Richmond). Bottom line: If you’re moving to Richmond expecting a town filled with NASCAR and Skynyrd fanatics only, think again (granted, both entities are still HUGE down there…)
A History Aficionado’s Heaven: The banking and legal fields are the biggest breadwinners in the city, but tourism comes in a close third. Outsiders continue to flock to the city to visit Richmond National Battlefield Park, Hollywood Cemetery, and the Confederate White House, among other historic locations. Be prepared: Richmond is a hotbed for Civil War reenactments, so if you’re sitting on your favorite barstool in Shockoe Botton one night and you see a blood-stained Johnny Reb stumbling by, you’re not hallucinating or seeing a ghost. It’s just a “regular” guy who’s pretending to be wounded in action or dying of dysentery in 1864.
Navigating the City: The most convenient way to maneuver throughout the city is (big surprise alert!) via your own vehicle. Traffic is rarely backed up in Richmond and parking spaces are easy enough to find, so if you have your own gas-guzzler, you’re in good shape. If not, you can always take the GRTC city buses that service the area, but be sure to have either exact change or a nifty little GRTC Go Card (available everywhere anything at all is sold…).
Day… Richmond residents who like to have their fun under the sun won’t be disappointed. Popular daytime recreational haunts include Belle Isle on the James River (a popular youth hangout that features a mountain bike trail), Monument Avenue (a Confederate statue-lined historic street), and Maymont Park (one of the country’s most aesthetic urban parks). Numerous other parks and museums (including the Black History Museum and the Edgar Allen Poe Museum) are spread throughout the city as well.
And Night: If a musical genre exists, there’s a live band in Richmond playing it right now. Throughout Shockoe Bottom, the downtown area, and the Fan District, music junkies will find an endless stream of live music venues with bands exploring every genre from punk, funk, and indie to bluegrass, hip hop, and – sorry to say it – disco. Never fear, techno-tronic enthusiasts: The Shockoe Bottom ‘hood also serves up its fair share of pulse-pounding club music, so don’t forget to pack your glittery shirts and glow sticks.
Settling in Richmond
People have been settling in Richmond successfully for roughly 275 years, and guess what? You can, too! Just a few caveats to consider before signing on that dotted line:
Beggars can’t be choosers, but Richmond-ers can: Richmond is one of those rare cities in Virginia where renters outnumber buyers (by more than seven percent in this case). Because students at VCU and UR are constantly moving in and out of the city (same goes for Federal Reserve Bank workers and other government employees), there’s a revolving door of tenants at many complexes. So be choosy and don’t settle on a pad until you’re sure it’s exactly what your little heart desires.
Take careful inventory: When you move-in, chances are your apartment manager will give you a checklist so you can note anything that isn’t completely perfect in your new pad. Don’t blow this off! Apartments tend to turn over very quickly in Richmond, and property managers don’t always have the chance to examine every last nook and cranny of vacant units for blemishes. You don’t want to get blamed – or worse, lose your deposit – for something that happened before your time.
Bring the basics: Of course, you’ll need I.D., proof of income, a list of previous landlords, and banking info to rent at most Richmond properties. Or, if you’re a student with no job, no income, and no bank account (well aren’t you a pile of fun!), you’ll need a co-signer.
It’s not old, it’s distinguished … Roughly 75 percent of buildings in Richmond, including rental properties, were built prior to 1970, so hopefully you appreciate a certain degree of antiquity in your living quarters. Just make sure the foundation isn’t crumbling or anything too drastic.
The Lay of the Land
So which neighborhood in Richmond is right for you? You have your choice of 50-plus distinct ‘hoods to pick from, including:
Downtown: The downtown area, especially the Monroe Ward and Shockoe Slip areas, are ideal for VCU students and young urban professionals who want to be in the hub of the city’s commerce and culture (average apartment cost is around $900). The historical African-American neighborhood of Jackson Ward is also downtown and has some rental houses available in the $1200 range.
Shockoe Bottom: The epicenter of Richmond’s nightlife, Shockoe Bottom, on the banks of the James River, is a favorite locale for night owls, students, and hipsters who’s idea of a dream pad is one surrounded by pounding bass and drums. Just be prepared to spend close to a grand for a 1 BR and $1300-plus for a multi-room unit.
Tobacco Row: Remember those “eclectic” living spaces we promised? We were talking about Tobacco Row, whose clusters of former tobacco factories have been transformed into chic, spacious lofts and condos. Riverside rentals are currently available in the $700 range for the smallest units (600 square feet), while the more roomy digs (1100-plus square feet) will cost you close to $1200.
Closing thoughts: “Give me liberty or give me cheap cost of living”
Well, then, liberty it is! The cost of living in Richmond is nearly 9 percent higher than the national average, so you might want to stock up on those Ramen noodles (college student or not) before moving to “The River City.” Fortunately, the average rental unit is hovering around only $850, and move-in specials pop up frequently, so even though food and gas might break your bank, the landlord won’t. Besides, look on the bright side: If you don’t have enough pocket money to party the night away in Shockoe, you can stay home and re-read those American history books…
Welcome to Richmond, and happy hunting!
-By Kera Zacuto
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION FROM RENT ADVISOR:
Richmond is the capital of Virginia located on the James River in the middle of the state. Early settlers at Jamestown go back to the early 1600s. It's about 95 miles west of Norfolk and 100 miles south of Washington, D.C. About 200,000 people live here with median incomes around $37,000. Population is 57% black, 37% white, and 3% Hispanic. It was an important city during the American Revolutionary war. It's the place where Patrick Henry gave his famous speech, "Give me liberty or give me death." Richmond was also the capital of the Confederacy during the American Civil War.
•Attractive historical city
•Great for Democrats
•Housing is affordable.
•low median income
•25% without a high school diploma
•Only 30% vote Republican
Richmond has no shortage of apartments and apartment complexes. Rent prices in Richmond are very reasonable, hovering around $770 a month. Most apartments are located south of 195, between the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike highway 76. The city has 4 distinct seasons with plenty of snow in the winter. The downside of Richmond is that incomes are low and unemployment is slightly higher than the national average. But there are great educational opportunities and the cost of living is low. There's a public bus, but driving a car is really easy compared to major metro cities like Atlanta. Overall, it's an attractive city in a beautiful state that is developing and moving up the economic ladder. -Debra Cole