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Together, Again: Virginia Awaits You!

October 26, 2021 | Together, Again: Virginia Awaits You! 2022 Main Street Now Conference Comes to Virginia | By: Zachary Whitlow, Community Revitalization Specialist, Virginia DHCD |
City of Richmond, courtesy of Virginia Tourism

The Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development’s (DHCD) Virginia Main Street (VMS) program is excited to co-host the 2022 Main Street Now Conference alongside Main Street America in Richmond, Virginia, May 16-18. Get to know our state, host city and Main Street communities through this special blog series!

Virginia is for Lovers

In Virginia, we’re all about doing the things you love and making memories that will last a lifetime. You’ve probably heard of our iconic slogan, Virginia is for Lovers. Since its adoption in 1969, the beloved phrase has helped shape a new image of a more exciting Virginia, and people have been discovering love for a state that has it all ever since. Luckily, our love story continues as we prepare to welcome thousands of revitalization professionals from across the country for the 2022 Main Street Now Conference, and while you’re here, we encourage you to be on the lookout because you’ll find LOVEworks in every corner of the Commonwealth!

Virginia Beach LOVEwork (Atlantic Avenue at 24ths Street), courtesy of Virginia Tourism

From small towns and scenic roads to mountain vistas and tranquil beaches, Virginia’s 10 distinct regions have something for everyone to love! In the westernmost tip, the Heart of Appalachia beats strong, pulsating with rugged beauty and culture. The musical soul of Virginia is widely celebrated along The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail that spans 300 miles and connects the region to the Blue Ridge Highlands, the Birthplace of Country Music. In Southwest Virginia, the Blue Ridge Parkway, dubbed “America’s most scenic drive,” offers sweeping views of the state’s awe-inspiring landscape. Authentic terrains stretch further into the Shenandoah Valley, home to one-fourth of the Appalachian Trail and the Shenandoah National Park, one of 22 national parks in Virginia, with its 105-mile National Scenic Byway, Skyline Drive, that surrounds quaint valley towns and cities.

Shenandoah National Park, courtesy of Virginia Tourism

The gateway to our nation’s capital, Northern Virginia, houses a trove of major attractions and historic gems, such as George Washington’s Mount Vernon and Old Town Alexandria. But, for those that need a break from the metropolitan hustle and bustle, look no further than Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay, where waterfront cottages and charming villages exude tranquility. Continue down the coast to tour Colonial Williamsburg, the nation’s largest living history museum, or soak up the sun on the white sands of Virginia Beach in Hampton Roads. Another reposeful escape from the stress of daily life can be found in the old railroad towns and intimate fishing villages that stretch across all 70 miles of Virginia’s Eastern Shore that’s filled with cozy B&Bs, quirky roadside stands, restaurants that serve the best oysters you’ll ever have and beaches where you can witness the majestic sight of wild ponies feeding on the marsh grasses. 

In Southern Virginia, winding country roads lead to former tobacco markets that have become thriving Main Street communities that leverage and embrace new community and economic development innovations to ensure their vitality. Raceways and speedways add to the region’s excitement, but there’s nothing quite like Virginia’s Rails to Trails, which refers to old railroad grades that have been converted into multi-use recreation trails. Across Virginia, these community connectors allow outdoor lovers to traverse scenic paths like the 31-mile High Bridge Trail, featuring the longest recreational bridge in the Commonwealth. Opportunities to meander are abound, and wherever you’re going, you’ll see firsthand how genuine people and places make our state worthwhile, especially in Central Virginia, a melting pot of cultural interests. The heart of Virginia embodies the unique characteristics of all other regions, and it’s the home of the 2022 Main Street Now Conference host city, Richmond, Virginia!

High Bridge Trail, courtesy of Virginia Tourism

Virginia’s Creative Capital

Take my advice, you’ll want to reserve time before or after the conference (maybe both) to explore Richmond, Virginia (RVA), by foot, trolley, bike, segway or Tuk Tuk because the only problem you might have while visiting is not having enough time to experience everything this amazing city has to offer! Newcomers are often surprised by how much there’s to do and see in RVA so allow me to paint a picture of what to expect:

As one of the country’s premier art destinations, RVA prides itself on being a living canvas with a mural on (nearly) every wall. Home to over 100 murals and 70+ galleries, local, national and international artists have left their mark here and created invigorating and barrier-breaking works of art in Virginia’s capital, such as Kehinde Wiley’s Rumors of War statue, which is located at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA), one of the largest comprehensive art museums in the U.S.

In RVA, creativity also exudes by the plateful. Bring your appetite because there are over 900 restaurants here, and the best are locally owned. This foodie hotspot has everything from spicy Szechuan to New Zealand-style savory pies, down-home southern barbeque to the finest farm-to-table cuisine and everything in between, all prepared by chefs who are artists in their own right. If your options feel overwhelming, check out this dining guide or sign up for a food tour to embark on neighborhood centric outings that showcase RVA’s expansive culinary scene. You might want to pack your stretchy pants because you’re going to love the local flavor here!

Thirsty? In RVA, most concoctions are art in a glass! There are nearly 40 craft breweries in RVA, as well as urban cideries, distilleries, craft cocktail bars and more. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, take on the Richmond Beer Trail to fully immerse yourself in the Richmond craft beer experience. But, don’t let the fun stop there! Head to a Cuban dance club or check out GWARbar (if you dare). Stroll through downtown RVA where the sidewalks don’t roll up at night, and let the music guide you to a cozy pub or rooftop concert. The city’s diverse music scene welcomes local musicians, touring regional acts and nationally recognized artists every night.

Apart from a thriving art scene, amazing restaurants and exciting nightlife, RVA is also filled with eclectic boutiques, high-end vintage shops, antiquing spots, and plenty of unique décor stores. RVA can proudly say “yes, we have that,” but it’s the people behind these businesses and those who help foster innovation and creativity through a diversity in thinking that make the city a hotbed of startups and entrepreneurial endeavors. You’ll find a lot of unique shops in Carytown, home to the Byrd Theatre, and by checking out other historic neighborhoods, such as Jackson Ward, once called the Black Wall Street of America, Scott’s Addition, an eclectic mix of industrial, commercial and residential uses, and Shockoe Slip and Bottom, major business and entertainment districts (just to name a few). Shopping never feels like a chore when you’re having fun, and we hope that you’ll carve out time to visit and support our thriving small business community!
Whisk & refreshed Nina Simone mural by Ed Trask, courtesy of Eric Lusher

We’re ready to welcome each and every conference attendee to Richmond, and we want you all to experience the wonders of RVA, while embracing curiosity and absorbing the creative energy that’s in the air. Whether that be through the city’s natural playground, particularly Brown’s Island, a six-acre riverfront park, or somewhere downtown marveling at street art, we invite you to explore RVA and help us complete the next chapter of our love story!

Virginia Main Street

The 2022 Main Street Now Conference will use RVA and surrounding Virginia Main Street (VMS) communities as a learning lab to showcase how the principles of Main Street can strengthen and expand our commercial districts as we emerge into a new economic future.

Administered through the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), VMS represents one of many programs that the agency’s Community Revitalization Office (CRO) implements to help communities reinvest in their places, invigorate local economies and improve quality of life. Since 1985, the VMS program has helped communities successfully create positive and sustainable change to stimulate long-term economic growth, ensure civic pride, protect historic resources and maintain their status as inclusive social, commercial and cultural centers. From the Heart of Appalachia to Virginia’s Eastern Shore, there are 30 designated Advancing Virginia Main Street (AVMS) communities, five of which are Great American Main Street Award (GAMSA) winners, and more than 70 Exploring Main Street (EMS) localities, otherwise known as Affiliates. Our Main Street communities reflect the diversity of our state and population. They’re both rural and urban centers, with populations ranging from 1,008 (St. Paul) to 80,569 (Lynchburg). Excitingly, you’ll have an opportunity to tour a few thriving Main Street communities during the conference, and we look forward to sharing highlights of those fun mobile tours soon, as well as the inspiring downtown revitalization work taking place across Virginia!
Town of Ashland, courtesy of Town of Ashland

Since its inception, VMS has helped generate more than $1.2 billion in private investment and $1.5 billion in public investment in Virginia downtowns and commercial districts, create nearly 16,000 net new jobs and establish 4,310 net new businesses across the Commonwealth. Volunteers have donated almost 1.3 million hours of service to the heart of their communities at a current value of nearly $37 million. These statistics illustrate the cumulative value of the day-to-day work of Virginia’s designated Main Street communities, and they provide tangible measurement of each community’s progress to revitalize their downtowns and help build the new Virginia economy. No wonder Virginia ranks as America’s #1 State for Business!

Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development 

Conference registration opens in January 2022! Check out the 2022 Main Street Now webpage for the latest updates.

The health and safety of Main Street Now Conference attendees is our highest priority. To ensure that we all have the best experience possible when we join together in-person again, we'll follow all local, state, and federal guidelines regarding COVID-19. We'll share further details on COVID-10 precautions as we get closer to the conference.

About the Author

Zachary Whitlow serves as a Community Revitalization Specialist at Virginia DHCD, working closely with the agency’s Main Street program and Rural Community Development Initiative (RCDI). Before joining Virginia’s state coordinating program in March 2020, he served as the local Executive Director of Downtown Blackstone, Inc. (DBI), one of Virginia’s designated Main Street communities. Zachary loves helping communities across Virginia unleash the power of small-scale, grassroots revitalization to build a sense of place and ensure economic vitality!