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business

‘Walmart on Campus’ and the Transformation of VCU and RVA

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VCU announced today that a new ‘Walmart on Campus,’ the shopping giant’s relatively new college store concept, is coming to the university. The 4,100-square-foot store will be located at 912 West Grace Street on the lower level of a new academic building. It’s Walmart’s fifth ‘mini’ on-campus concept and is slated to open late this year or in early 2015 at latest.

At first glance, the news kind of made my stomach turn. I’m admittedly not a big fan of Walmart or what the company stands for, like some of their employment practices, the way the company has been known to strong-arm its way into communities, and the resulting loss of locally owned stores that sometimes occurs when a new store opens.

I initially remarked on Twitter that I didn’t think a Walmart fit the ‘vibe’ of that area of campus:

Despite my reservations about the retail behemoth coming to campus, I was offered a few counter points in reply:

https://twitter.com/veggiegirlrva/status/497040377720102912

So while I may not be thrilled about a Walmart coming to VCU, it does prove two points:

1. VCU’s “vibe” that I spoke of has changed and evolved rather quickly.

It’s amazing how much VCU has changed and grown in the short time since I went there. The school’s been put on the national map (and really, helped solidified Richmond’s place on the map as well) following the success of the VCU Men’s Basketball program and Shaka Smart’s leadership. The VCUArts program is rated the best in the nation, too. We’re no longer some vague, hipster-y school.

Sure, there were chains on campus before, right down the street from the Grace Street development, like Barnes & Noble, Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Qdoba Mexican Grill, and Extreme Pizza, to name a few. But since then, even more have popped up.

On West Grace Street, where the new Walmart is coming, the surrounding blocks are barely recognizable compared to a few years prior:

grace-street-transformation

2. National interest in Richmond is on the uptick.

Just as VCU has gained a fair amount of national exposure over the past few years, so has Richmond. We were named ‘Best River Town in America‘ by Outside Magazine. Another study ranked RVA as the ‘Happiest Metropolitan Area’ in the United States.’ Richmond’s dining and brewing scenes have exploded, and chefs and entrepreneurs continue to raise the bar, many receiving national attention.

Chains that once never even considered the Richmond market are either testing the waters with their first RVA locations–Wegman’s, for example–or expanding their presence–such as Whole Foods Market.

The bottom line is, in my opinion, it’s an exciting time to live in Richmond. The city continues to thrive, grow and change. Change is not always easy though, especially for Richmonders (remember the great #Ukropalypse of 2009?).

While I’m not particularly excited for a Walmart at VCU personally, there will be many positive benefits for nearby students and residents alike looking to take advantage of a discount retailer, of which there are very few in the immediate area. Plus, it’s a small store as far as Walmarts go.

Finally, the fact that a corporation the size of Walmart sees a downtown store as a viable location is good news in general for the city–a sign of just how much this ‘big small town’ has grown up, perhaps.

A Bittersweet Day: Hanging Up My Hat As The Unofficial “Mayor of Short Pump”

By | business, life, rants | One Comment

Well, it’s a bittersweet day for me. After eight years, I’ve hung up my hat as the unofficial “Mayor of Short Pump,” the title (jab, perhaps?) jokingly given to me over the years as one of the most vocal advocates of the Far West End of Richmond.

I started DowntownShortPump.com in 2004 in high school when no other online outlet for news specifically for Short Pump existed, after driving by the “Downtown Short Pump” signage in front of the Regal Cinemas. Under the title, etched in stone, was the domain name, originally used to promote the shopping center. After visiting the website and learning it had expired, I purchased the domain name for $8.00.

Now to understand the name, you have to go way back to the time when Short Pump was a sleepy, quiet outpost in the middle of nowhere. The long forgotten Henley’s Store, which stood right about where Trader Joe’s is now, donned a sign that said “Downtown Short Pump,” ironically poking fun at the fact that, well, that was about all there was out there. And it just about was.

That’s the Short Pump I grew up in. Back when it had soul. Fast forward to 2012, and there’s nary a point of reference to even begin to point out what stood where in the Short Pump of olden days. All that remains is the name.

Downtown Short Pump, then, was both an accurate and ironic name for my website. What was once a rural crossroads joking about being a city had actually become one, in a suburban sprawl kind of way. And that suburban city, I thought, needed an exclusive news source.

That being said, I never dreamed my little project with a couple visitors a day would end up netting 30,000 visitors per month or gaining the traction that it did. It’s funny to me that I sort of became the face or persona (or “Mayor”) of Short Pump to some people. I guess it was just because no one else was doing it. Either way, it ended up becoming the biggest project of my life thus far.

Unlike a lot of people who saw Short Pump as a suburban jungle of chain stores and concrete, which in many ways it had become, I aimed to utilize Downtown Short Pump to show that the community still had a pulse. Short Pump may have had an almost full-body transplant, but local businesses restaurants still thrived among the “big box” stores. I tried to demonstrate this as often as possible, and often times became the butt of jokes for it. Which I not only didn’t mind, but I quite often got a kick out of it and laughed right along.

I sold the site last December, but stayed on as Editor & Publisher. As the new owners prepare to take DTSP in a new direction, I think this was the right time to part ways. I can’t begin to express how grateful I am to have had the opportunities I did because of the site, and the connections I made. Not just business connections, but the friendships I formed and the people I met city-wide.

I didn’t just run a website. It was literally part of me. After spending a third of my life running Downtown Short Pump, it was very strange, almost surreal, driving down West Broad Street and seeing a sign for a new business opening. The instinct to make a mental note on something like that and put together a writeup for the website is so ingrained into me that it just comes as second nature. It’s going to take a while to remind myself that’s not what I do anymore.

Thanks for everyone’s support over the years–for believing in me, especially in the beginning, when I sometimes didn’t believe in myself. And for all the advice and support as I started out (extra special thank-yous go out to NBC12’s Ryan Nobles and Andy Jenks, who in some ways were my mentors and provided phenomenal advice).

I’ve grown and changed in ways that never would have been otherwise possible, and I would be nowhere if it weren’t for those that stood by me for the past eight years, including the loyal readers.

So while moving on may be bittersweet, and I may even be (gasp!) moving to The Fan soon, stepping back from something I’ve been used to doing has really given me some good perspective and clarity. I think I’ll be able to focus more on some big projects and ideas I’ve had in mind for some time. But not before I take the next couple months to reflect and really consider what it is I want to do next with my life, get myself and my life in order, and prepare to embark on my next adventure. I have some big ideas to make an impact on the community again, and this time, I’m going Richmond-wide, if not further.

Stay tuned, and again, thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone who’s supported me.

The Occasional Big Implications of Seemingly Insignificant Decisions: Life’s Funny

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Life sure is funny sometimes. It almost makes you wonder if God himself has a sense of humor. When you look back on certain things, you realize it’s sometimes the smallest of decisions that end up taking you down certain paths. And it sure makes for a great story. I want to share one of those with you today.

It was mid September of 2009. I had just quit my job at a local computer company, where I managed a help desk at the University of Richmond and traveled around the state installing and servicing computers and printers for mainly educational clients to spend more time growing my web design and branding business and my news site, Downtown Short Pump. While working out of my favorite local coffee shop, I saw a tweet from a woman I’d never met before, desperately asking for help with her computer from someone nearby. Being that I was next door and had done this for a living, I decided to pop in to this woman’s store, By Invitation Only. It was there that I met Monica Horsley.

I spent an hour or so attempting to resolve Monica’s computer issues that day. Well it turns out there was more than one issue that needed taking care of. The next day, Monica asked me to come back and take a look at a few other things. The third day, she invited me out for drinks with her and the rest of the staff after work. We all really got along. She invited me back to do a few more things the next day.

Before I knew it, I got my first paycheck. I was officially working at a invitation and stationery store. I began helping with the graphic design and printing of everything from childrens’ birthday parties and graduations to rehearsal dinners and weddings. I even familiarized myself with the more than eighty vendor invitation books we had and began helping customers select wedding and other invitations when they came in the store.

Once the former manager quit and a couple others left for one reason or another, it was pretty much just Monica and I holding down the fort for a few months. I was doing so many things that, though I didn’t, I felt like I owned a part of the store. I had that kind of dedication to its continued success.

I stayed for just over two years at a job I was never really hired for– I just never left! But two weeks ago, I put in my resignation after accepting my new job at Loving Consulting. My last day was February 29, 2012.

It was a fun ride. Getting to work in a fast-paced retail environment with a clientele that expected nothing less than perfection definitely sharpened my skills physically, mentally, and socially. I was kept on my toes at all times. It had its ups and downs, but overall, I’m thankful for the experiences that helped mold and shape me that I otherwise wouldn’t have had if I had stayed at the coffee shop that day in 2009.

A lot of the people I met through Monica (one of the most connected people I’ve ever met) helped me to accomplish a lot for my business and connect the dots between myself and those that they knew to do the same.

If you asked me two years ago if I’d ever either work in or get to know anything about the bridal industry, I would have looked at you and laughed. But I now know it inside and out, and I’m better off for it. And I never thought I’d be sitting here typing that.

What I’ve learned is that little, seemingly insignificant decisions can end up making the most impact in your life. If I had continued to sit in that coffee shop and not respond to that tweet asking for help, what path would I have taken? I have a feeling I wouldn’t have expanded my horizons the way I have or even ultimately made the decision to sell my website (and accept a position doing something I love while still getting to run my website), which ended up being one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

It makes me wonder how many other small decisions I’ve made, even subconscious ones, that have lead me to where I am now. I guess John Lennon was right. Life’s what happens while you’re busy making other plans.

So, as I said once before, life sure is funny.

A New Year, A New Direction, A New Company

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2011 was a great year. I met so many new people, had a lot of great new experiences and continued to grow my business. I took on some major new clients under RVA MediaWorks and had a record year on Downtown Short Pump. These are all great things, because all healthy things grow. And as we flip the calendar to 2012, it’s time to take the next step in that growth.

I started Downtown Short Pump back in high school after visiting the website on the Downtown Short Pump sign in front of Regal Cinemas and Barnes and Noble. The name of the shopping complex was not new, but perhaps ironic. Borrowed from the old Henley Store, a two story general store at the corner of Broad and Three Chopt, the Downtown Short Pump sign adorning the front of the building was the butt of all jokes back when Short Pump was a rural outpost.

Today, the name is pretty fitting of the bustling suburban “edge city” that Short Pump has become. The Downtown Short Pump shopping complex had the domain name “www.downtownshortpump.com” etched into the stone of their sign, to promote the new center. By chance, I visited it one day in 2004 and noticed it had expired. I grabbed it for $8.

I then started posting happenings in the community, news I had heard or things I saw. Little did I know that this little one-pager would turn into a full-fledged website that welcomed just under 325,000 visitors in 2011– a fact of which I am very proud, but also very humbled by.

I can’t even begin to list all of the opportunities I’ve had and the people I’ve met all around Richmond through the growth of Downtown Short Pump. It’s been an amazing journey. And as of today, I announce my plan to take everything to the next level.

I’ve sold Downtown Short Pump to James Loving of Loving Consulting (who I’ve worked with very extensively in the past through the company’s highly successful Far West End networking group The Loving Collective), with whom I’ve taken a job as Director of New Media and Image Consultant. I’ll remain Editor & Publisher of Downtown Short Pump under the company’s new online media division, Break Point Media Group. Working for the company that acquired DTSP will allow me to continue to do what I love and hopefully expand this vision around Richmond, beginning with our sister site, Midlothian RVA, which will be launching soon.

I’ll also be helping with web design, copywriting, social media, and graphic design campaigns, plus contributing to other branding strategies for Loving Consulting’s clients.

I’m incredibly excited about what 2012 will bring, and I thank everyone who’s supported me and my business as a whole over the years. I’m not going anywhere, just changing roles, and I look forward to working with you and your businesses as I expand upon what I’ve built with Downtown Short Pump into other areas– both role-wise and geographically!

Why I’m All For Facebook Places And What It Means For Location-Based Social Networking

By | business, opinion | 2 Comments

About two and a half years ago, when I first signed up for this new thing I had heard about called Twitter, and long before I had ever uttered the word “social media,” I was introduced to what was probably the first location-based social network. It was called Brightkite, and only a handful of people I knew were using it, probably 90% of whom I knew through Twitter.

Needless to say, Brightkite has gone the way of Bebo and Friendster, joining a growing list of startups that ended up in a “failure to launch” kind of situation.

Flash forward to late 2009, and along comes Foursquare. I got an invitation to join when the Richmond network was in some stage of beta, and next thing I know, 50 people I knew were on board. About 10 months later, my list of Foursquare friends sits at around 350, a much smaller number than my Twitter or Facebook lists, but for several reasons.

One of those reasons is privacy. I asked myself, did I really want everyone knowing where I am at all times? Through built-in connection options on the Foursquare iPhone app, I’m able to selectively choose which check-ins I share with my broader social media family and which I keep to the smaller group I’m okay with knowing on Foursquare.

Just this week, Facebook announced what I see to be a complete game-changer for location-based social networking. Facebook Places, as it was dubbed, is the social media giant’s entrance into the market. With such a small number of the total population using services like Foursquare and its smaller competitor Gowalla, it would seem a safe bet that Facebook would take the concept mainstream with their base of over 500 million (and counting) users worldwide.

In my opinion, Facebook is off to a great start with Places. It’s simple and intuitive, and seems to pull places from a database such as Google Maps, much like Brightkite did, as opposed to relying on users to create venues. But, if a place isn’t listed or has incorrect information, you can still add or edit the venue. What’s more is creating a venue makes a Facebook Page for that place.

I’ve noticed that most of the places I’ve checked into so far that have an existing Facebook Page don’t have the venue linked to it, rather Facebook creates a new, bare bones page for the venue, if that makes sense. This is kind of annoying and I would think could become frustrating for end users and business owners alike, but I’m sure it’s something that will be tweaked in the near future.

Another issue is privacy. Facebook allows you to tag friends at the venue you’re at, without their consent. With Foursquare, another person had to check themselves into a venue before they’d show up in anything you posted from Foursquare to Twitter or Facebook. While that information will only be visible to your friends by default, you can choose to share it publicly.

In summary, I’m excited about the possibilities of Facebook Places. As more of my friends have signed up for Foursquare, it’s been cool to walk around The Fan or similar places and see a friend check in and meet up for a drink or other spur of the moment activities. Facebook is no doubt going to make location-based social media a household concept, unfortunately at the expense of the smaller startups. While there are privacy and technical issues to work out, I think this is about to spread like wildfire, and just like the advent and evolution of other social networks, I’m ready for the ride.

First RVA Social Media Club (SMCRVA) Meeting

By | business, events, life, opinion, technology | 2 Comments

I went to the first RVA Social Media Club (SMCRVA) last night at Morton’s Steakhouse downtown. I really wasn’t sure what to expect, but as soon as I walked in the door, I knew I had just entered the best business networking event in Richmond. I had the opportunity to put a lot of names with faces from people I follow on Twitter (maybe a more appropriate name for the organization would be “Richmond Twitter Club!”), as well as catch up with some old friends. It was an all-around great night, albeit a bit overwhelming with around 150 people in the room to meet. I think the first night was a great success and is just the beginning of big things to come from this organization. The networking opportunities are awesome. It really makes Richmond feel like one big family of friends.

I’m really amazed at what’s happened to Twitter over the past year or so. Back when I first got my account, well over a year ago, it was a novelty service. No one I knew was really on it, but that was the coolest thing about it. I got to know so many interesting people in Richmond and around the world, and even had “tweetups” (Twitter terminology for “meetups”) with some of the nice folks I met on the service. Now, though, everyone is on Twitter. Businesses are beginning to realize what great benefits social media has and they’re all jumping on the bandwagon. Twitter is just one big social experiment if you ask me, opening the doors to a new way to exchange news, ideas, support and business information in under 140 characters. Richmond is becoming a lot more close-knit because of it, and that’s a really cool thing in this day in age where everyone’s always on the go.

Denny’s “Nannerpus” Breakfast Commercial

By | business, food, funny | One Comment

This is one of the funniest TV commercials I have ever seen, period. It’s for Denny’s Grand Slam breakfast. From what I hear, this was made locally! Seriously though, I would much rather eat this at Denny’s than get the “serious” breakfast they speak of. Wouldn’t it be funny if this got so popular they actually had a Nannerpus pancake platter on the menu? I’d be the first one there.

XM & Sirius Merge Channel Lineup: My Thoughts

By | business, music, news, opinion, rants, technology | 3 Comments

I’ve been an XM subscriber for a good year and a half now, and have always enjoyed their programming lineup. Well, the rumor I had heard lately, that XM and Sirius were going to merge their channel lineup, came true just two hours before posting this. At midnight, the switch took place. It appears more XM channels were replaced by pre-existing Sirius channels than vice-versa. It makes sense, considering Sirius technically bought out XM in the supposed “merger of equals” as the deal was described. (I’ve personally never understood why XM wasn’t the one buying Sirius, considering their significantly larger subscriber base). I have a lot of mixed feelings about the merger. Let’s get started.

First off, I know the merger of redundant programming on two channels (one on each service) into one channel on both will save the company, currently hemmoraging money, lots of coin. Unfortunately, that comes at the expense of many long-time employees at both satellite radio services. I heard the number of people let go was in the hundreds. As far as consolidation goes, I think some of the names of the stations Sirius previously had, that took over XM stations, are silly. I don’t even necessarily listen to the following stations, but they’re relevant examples. Why replace XM’s light alternative rock station “The Heart” with “Sirius XM Love?” Silly name. Then again in some cases neither station’s equivilent station makes any sense. XM’s classic alternative rock channel “Lucy” got replaced by Sirius’ “Lithium.” Go figure either one of those. Some replaced stations do have better names now, though. My favorite station, ’90s & ’00s hot adult contemporary station “Flight 26” was replaced by Sirius’ “The Pulse.” I do like the name better.

I’ve been listening to The Pulse for the past two hours and haven’t really noticed any big differences. I’ve caught a few “new” (to the station) songs sprinkled in, like a catchy track from The Killers I hadn’t heard before, but nothing else out of the ordinary. My guess is the same program director will stay at the reigns, and the only shift will be in the name. The on-air personalities now include two from each station, with the exception of one Flight 26 personality, P.J., who was either let go or was moved to another station. Even the voiceover guy is the same, as I’ve discovered with most other respective channels as I’ve flipped around the dial tonight. The new imaging packages by the voiceover team all say “[Name of station] on Sirius XM] now and come wrapped in a much tighter package, all sounding very quick, snappy, and punchy.

What I don’t get, and don’t agree with, is Sirius XM’s decision to integrate programming lineups but keep channels different on both services. In fact, I think if they’re going to do this, they should go big or go home. What’s the point in having the same channel lineup on both services, yet have different channel numbers for each? I know nothing about exactly how the technology will now be implemented and combined, but my guess would be they could decomission either the XM or Sirius (one or the other) satellites and have only one previous company’s satellites serve the combined subscriber base. It would most definitely save the company a lot of money. Plus, XM’s channel bandwidth could then be used to expand Sirius’. The sound quality on either service has always been questionable. I’ve heard better stereo sound from a cassette tape. The biggest difference can heard when you switch between highly-compressed XM and an insanely-processed, polished-sounding radio station, such as Q94. Using XM’s bandwidth for Sirius’ channels would allow the combined company to allot more bandwidth to each station, effectively dramatically improving sound quality. I’ve heard that music channels are compressed as low as 64kbps (half of what is considered mediocre to good MP3 quality), and some talk channels as low as 16kbps. I can’t confirm this, but I believe it.

Why not just lose the silly Sirius XM moniker and pick one name? I think, for simplicity’s sake, just one should be used. Also, get rid of the channels hardly anyone listens to, like the three French music channels and “The 40s.” How many people do you know in their 80s (that’s how old you’d have to be to reasonably remember music from the 1940s) that listen to satellite radio, much less even know what it is? It’ll be interesting to see how all this plays out, and the response from subscribers. We all knew this was coming. The company is looking to bring value to its shareholders by cutting costs, and this was the quickest way to do just that. I think in the long run, after customers such as myself accept and adapt to the changes, it will be a good thing for everyone.

River City Media Ventures & Downtown Short Pump

By | business, funny, life, movie reviews, music, videos | One Comment

Seems like it’s been a long time since I’ve blogged. It’s about time I gave an update! I’ve been too consumed with other websites to keep up with my blog, I guess. I’m moving full steam ahead with my community news and information website, Downtown Short Pump. I’ve been trying to write new, original news stories each and every day, going out to the scene when news happens to get the scoop, and meeting lots of new contacts. I just put together an advertising guide, and hope to sell some ad space soon. Everything’s going really well with the site.

Aside from that, work and school have consumed most of the rest of my time. I work every day at the University of Richmond help desk for Attronica Computers, doing warranty service work on IBM/Lenovo and HP computers. It’s not a bad job at all.

I’m also putting the finishing touches on forming an LLC for my budding business, River City Media Ventures. It should be finalized sometime this week. 5,000 business cards are on their way to my house as I write this to give out to prospective advertisers and area residents. You can’t ever have too much promotion!

I chose to name my business based on other services I offer like web design and didn’t choose anything related to Downtown Short Pump because I have plans for many other different kinds of sites in the future. Downtown Short Pump is just the first. Under River City Media Ventures, I’m also offering web design and many other services I’ll announce at a later time. The plan has always been to provide lower cost design services from the beginning, and it’s starting to catch on. As of today, I have eight clients that need sites designed by the end of November!

That pretty sums everything up briefly. I’m gonna try to start blogging more frequently again, so I’ll have plenty more updates soon!

“In A World” Without Don LaFontaine

By | business, life, news | No Comments

You may not know him by name, but you no doubt know his voice. Don LaFontaine was the voice behind the vast majority of the movie trailers you’ve seen for decades. He passed away this morning from complications related to a collapsed lung, at the age of 68.

Over the span of his 25+ year career, he did voiceovers for more than 5,000 movie trailers and 350,000 television commercials, and is best known for his introductory “In a world…” phrase. No one quite had a voice like LaFontaine’s, and his voice will be missed.

His most recent television appearance was on a commercial for Geico, in which they simply called him “that announcer guy from the movies” because his voice is so widely known and unique.

I’ve always been intrigued by with the movie industry, and voice talent professionals as well, and would love to do some of my own voiceover work one day. Below is a video highlighting his career.