Rebuilding retail; Shop owners take charge of revitalizing the Richmond Arts District

February 10, 2021 – Richmond Magazine – Inching toward its 300th birthday, Richmond has a few creaky joints and dusty corners. The weary days of late have been particularly hard on the Arts District area of Broad Street. It started with the long and obtrusive construction of the GRTC Pulse. Completed in 2018, the project resulted in the removal of some street parking. Then, just as businesses and shoppers adjusted to new parking norms, a global pandemic hit in early 2020. Foot traffic all but disintegrated, and many stores decided to close their physical locations temporarily, some permanently. As business owners reopened that same year, late May’s racial justice protests in the wake of George Floyd’s killing included rioters who vandalized and looted the area. Now, the stores that remain have emerged resilient and ready for business.

Crash Course

Anthony Bryant is vice president of the Richmond Arts District (RAD), the promotional arm of the Downtown Neighborhood Association. He’s also the owner of Little Nomad at 104 W. Broad St., which sells children’s clothing and accessories. He has a positive outlook on the area’s future but understands the effort involved in overcoming obstacles, both recent and perennial.

“Our goal is to make sure the Arts District is being highlighted in a positive light,” he says. “Our biggest challenge is people’s view of the history down here. They view it as a failed area … the way it was back in the 1990s with a major drug presence.” Bryant knows it wasn’t always that way. He remembers the area during the 1980s.

“I grew up in Chesterfield, and my parents would bring me here to take me shopping,” he says. “This is where trends and culture were at.”

Bryant later fell in love with retail. That’s the reason he came back to open his own store in 2017, and stayed, even after a car crashed into his shop a year later.

“I wanted to be part of building something back up,” he says. “I had this vision, and I saw other people who had the same vision to bring downtown back to its prominence and make it a true destination.”

RAD has been working to create solutions to longstanding challenges including parking, appropriate police presence and economic development. He says the infrastructure for a prosperous downtown is already there, the area just needs a little extra love. 

“I feel like I’ve gotten a business crash course through all of this, puns intended, and I’ve come out stronger,” he says.

Read more at Richmond Magazine.