Kollatz and the stuffed, you-build-it Lady Wonder take a moment to get their bearings in Short Pump. (Photo by Todd Wright)
As it has been for the past 10+ years, Short Pump is on the grow. The Children’s Museum of Richmond opened at Short Pump Town Center just last weekend. The uniquely-named Tazza Kitchen (one part taco, one part pizza...get it?) is one of the many recent eatery additions to the area. Earlier this month, Short Pump Indian restaurant Lehja got a nod from Conde Nast Traveler in its piece touting Richmond cuisine, "The Southern Food Destination You Need to Know About." A new shopping center, West Broad Marketplace, is being built along Broad Street near the Goochland County line and will include Wegmans, Cabelas, and other retailers. Clearly, there's a whole lot of shaking going on in the West End. Step back in time with Harry "The Hat" Kollatz Jr. as he sojourns to Short Pump, circa May 2004.
Short Pump is not of my everyday Kollatzian world. My wife and I live near the Byrd Theater. I walk to work at The Book Bindery office building and to the Firehouse Theatre (which I co-founded), both on West Broad Street in the Fan District.
While it may be out of my world, you don’t need a spaceship to get to Short Pump. It’s approximately 15 minutes away from most places in metropolitan Richmond, although the exit from the Powhite Parkway onto Interstate 64 West always gives me an anxiety attack.
So I went to Short Pump, even spent the night, to absorb the experience. This isn’t a complete assessment of the place, but a glimpse of what I saw and some of the people I met. Something is going on here, and I tried to find out what it is.
The Old and Historic
I spent half of my first day on foot, an apparent oddity, because I counted two pedestrians and three bicyclists outside the Short Pump Town Center. Stoked on Starbucks coffee, I made a circuit along Broad Street.
Like any good Virginia locality, Short Pump boasts markers proclaiming the place’s history — even if there isn’t that much of it. Near the SouthTrust Bank at the corner of Pump and Broad, two signs compete with the bright Liberty gas station. I got odd looks from motorists while I was reading the historic markers.
The first sign tells about the “short pump” that served the horse trough of an early 19th-century tavern. A plaque inside Short Pump Town Center explains that the pump handle was cut short when the tavern’s shade porch was extended. Anybody who has ever used a water pump (and I have) would find this explanation mystifying.
In search of a better answer, I called Henrico County historian Chris Gregson. He cited an interview he conducted in the mid-1990s with an elderly Short Pump resident who recalled that it was the sporadic water pressure of the pump that earned the crossroads its name.
The second marker notes how, during the Revolutionary War’s Campaign of 1781, the Marquis de Lafayette used this route, then called the Deep Run Turnpike, to hightail it out of Richmond in advance of Lord Cornwallis.
Almost all the older country crossroads buildings of the 1920s and 1930s are gone. The Shell station, a combination gas-and-grocery store, and the transmission shop were trucked up and sent to Goochland County in 1996. The Short Pump Grocery was demolished, but a Tom Arrington print of it is displayed in the Short Pump Town Center mall offices.
The Turn of the Natives
Directly across from the strip shopping center “Downtown Short Pump,” which contains the Regal Cinemas 14, is another remnant of the former country village.
The 1902 cottage-style house on two acres belongs to Richard and Linda Haithcock, married for 36 years. The Haithcocks are Short Pump natives. They both attended Douglas Southall Freeman High School and met at a dance. Linda recalls, “When we went to Freeman, if you said you were from Short Pump, that was like saying you were from the sticks.”
They moved to the house in 1978. Development has hemmed them in, and Hurricane Isabel deprived them of privacy by ripping down trees and slamming one onto the rear of their house. The kitchen was fixed, but between the work of nature and tree removal, it looks like the place is preparing for the inevitable. The Haithcocks remain, negotiating with the county and potential developers for a land-lease agreement.
Another Short Pump landmark I remembered from years previous was the Cessna airplane fuselage canted from the roof of the Short Pump Midas service station, formerly Richardson’s Automotive. The plane isn’t there anymore.
I spoke with Mark Smith, who five years ago purchased the Midas franchise in the Richmond region. “When I bought it, the owner, Roy Richardson, told me that the airplane fell off a few times a year, and my insurance guy’s eyes got big as saucers. So we had it removed.” Far as Smith knows, the plane is now affixed to a country barn.
Smith hears the complaints about Short Pump congestion. While watching the never-ending stream out his front window, he says, “I’m from Chicago, so I’m used to big traffic. This isn’t big traffic to me. But it’s all relative.”
Marty Plotkin, a Midas manager, is a native Richmonder, married, with kids. He’s in Short Pump because of the reputation of Henrico County’s schools and he doesn’t often trek to Richmond.
For a while, he commuted to teach school at Onslow Minnis Middle School on Church Hill. That got old. “If my mom wasn’t [in the city] and my boy wasn’t in preschool, and the Braves weren’t on North Boulevard, I probably wouldn’t go to Richmond at all. I used to live in the Fan and miss it enormously.” He shrugs. “But you go over to Twin Hickory, and those people have barely any reason to come out even to here. They’re almost self-contained.”
The Library of Short Pump
The “Library of Short Pump,” or the Barnes & Noble, sits in the Downtown Short Pump strip center. The Barnes & Noble café fulfills the niche coffee shops have for centuries — a place to swap philosophies and gossip.
I’d arranged to meet two other Short Pumpians, John Hendron and Xiao Bing. They both live off Pump Road and became friends as writing collaborators. Hendron instructs teachers in the use of information technology in Goochland County. Bing is an economic consultant for a Richmond firm. I ran across them a few years ago when surfing the Internet for unusual Richmond-based Web sites.
Hendron is a fan of Baroque composer Heinrich von Biber, and Hendron’s Web site BiberFan.com has been devoted to the composer, life in Short Pump, dining out, music and media. He and Bing frequently come to Barnes & Noble, but less on weekends. Hendron grumbles about “the high school kids and their iBooks” crowding the café, especially on Friday nights. He also finds the parking consistently frustrating. Sometimes, he goes to Virginia Center Commons out of sheer frustration.
We philosophize about the nature of places like Short Pump. The convenience is good for both of them. Bing observes that business goes where the people are. Due to population densities in other countries, sprawling complexes like Short Pump Town Center are rare. “Other countries are less likely to tear houses down to build places like this,” he says. He speculates that in 25 years, Short Pump will be like Willow Lawn now — “Or,” Hendron interjects, “Cloverleaf.”
A One-Night Stand
After that discussion, I needed some laughs and, fortunately, I’d reserved a seat at Funny Bone, the comedy club located at the Town Center. That night’s show was a charity event organized by a group of Randolph-Macon College students raising money for the Children’s Miracle Network. The lineup was house comic Nick Cantone, Josh Sneed, Christopher “Kid” Reid (from the House Party movies) and Johnny Sanchez. My cover charge was $12, but the price varies depending on the acts and show times, ranging between $10 and $25 — reserving ahead saves $2.
I enjoyed the show, though much of the humor can’t be reproduced in a family magazine. Cantone, who proudly boasts that he’s dropped out of two Virginia colleges, quipped, “If you rock in New York, maybe they’ll hear about you in L.A. If you rock in Short Pump, maybe they’ll hear about you in Goochland.”
Afterward, at the bar, I chatted with Santone, who grew up, he says, “two seconds from here,” jutting a thumb over his shoulder. He is clearly enjoying himself and can’t believe his luck. “It’s weird, but the other day I was picking Brett Butler up at the airport and I look over and think, ‘My God! I grew up watching you on television!’ It is kind of odd, I guess, to have this kind of venue, getting major acts, in good old downtown Short Pump.”
Afterward I retired to my Hampton Inn room and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I had that dazed Lost in Translation look as if I too had been holed up in Tokyo too long with Bill Murray.
The Past Today
The next morning, again fortified by Starbucks, I returned to Short Pump Town Center. Stylish visitors carrying the emblematic bags of Crate & Barrel and Victoria’s Secret populated the plazas of Short Pump Town Center. They were from Staunton, Charlottesville and Chester. In from Rockville were 12-year-old Amelia Earnest and 11-year-old Hunter Hallman, with their chaperone Ann McMillan. They were impressed by the mall’s variety of shopping choices and its design.
Amelia said, “This place has positive chi. It is open air, there are trees and flowing water.” Not to mention the stores: Hollister, Dry Ice, Wet Seal, H&M.
The New Urbanism design gives the mall an accessible character. It allows you to go away and shop and tell your parents or whoever, I’ll meet you in an hour by the pump fountain.
“Or under the clock,” says Ann.
Under the clock. The phrase for generations of Richmonders meant the Sixth and Broad street entrance for the downtown retail giant Thalhimer’s. This is a new age, though, in which malls possess chi.
On the mall’s second level, there is the Art of Richmond shop, which sells glorious black-and-white prints from Dementi Studios’ photograph collection. In a place that didn’t exist three years ago is a shop exhibiting handsome portraits of a city and culture that aren’t anymore.
Nancy Byrne was minding the store. I asked her: How is that this shop is here amid suburbia honoring a past in the old city? Byrne understands; she lives in the city and her husband runs Shockoe Slip’s Richbrau Brewing Company. But people are consistently impressed with Richmond’s wealthy pictorial past and it reminds them of Richmond’s great qualities. She adds, “Yes, occasionally, we get people in here who grumble, ‘What happened to Richmond?’”
Here in Short Pump, Dementi is introducing itself to a group of consumers who may not know the company is still an active studio. Dementi presides over a trove of nostalgia, but they can still immortalize your wedding or family members. Meanwhile, Short Pumpians may spot their grandmother taking tickets at the old Loew’s.
Building the Perfect Beast
To round out my second-day activities, I made a beeline to the Build-A-Bear Workshop in the Town Center.
The peppy staff guided me through the process. The brilliant idea behind the store is making a furry friend for your favorite kid that reflects their personal tastes. You can choose from a lineup of bears, bunnies and ponies, even monkeys.
I bought a pony because my 3-year-old niece, Mya, is crazy about horses. Chirpy Beth Stanfield used a machine to blow stuffing into my pony (I personally determined its plush factor) and Tiffany Winston assisted me in dressing it. I selected cowgirl clothes, complete with boots, hat and, yes, even pink underwear. I devised a short biography for the animal, which I named after a historic Richmonder, Lady Wonder, a psychic horse of the 1930s. I was given a carrier box — “She needs a place to live, doesn’t she?” asked Stanfield — and was merrily sent on my way. Lady Wonder cost me $51.73, including adding a horsy voice recorded by me in the shop’s bathroom.
I posed Lady Wonder nonchalantly sitting on a bench by the Edgar Allen [sic] Poe column commemorating “The Raven.” (I later reported the misspelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s middle name to mall authorities.) Kids on the upper level gazed down and laughed at my pony. I boxed up Lady Wonder, and she and I rode over to Skate Nation, where I’d heard that 1994 Olympic gold medalist Oksana Baiul occasionally shows up and skates. General Manager Jim Bocrie confirmed it. Baiul comes here between tours and stays with friends.
Bocrie showed me the regular skating rink and also where hockey training occurs. A number of kids were out. “On Fridays, the home-schoolers come,” Bocrie explained. “They have to a have physical-education course, so they learn to skate.”
One girl was practicing her twirls. She spun effortlessly, beautifully, smiling at the sensation. Here there was no debate about the nature of edge-city suburbanism. Merely a pretty girl on her skates.
Like the late-night infomercials urge, “But wait, there’s more!”
More retailers are arriving near Short Pump Town Center. Currently under construction is a brand-new Circuit City off the first access road leading into the center from Broad Street. The Circuit City is on an out parcel, not part of the mall itself. Other parcels will include Seasons Restaurant, a Red Robin restaurant, a BB&T Bank, a First Citizens Bank, Chipolte and The Cheesecake Factory.
Seasons Restaurant, based in Williamsburg, home of the first Seasons Restaurant, is a family-owned, “fine-dining establishment serving excellent food at reasonable prices,” as the Town Center press release describes it. Red Robin is a national casual dining chain specializing in gourmet burgers and spirits.
Behind Dillard’s is yet another strip shopping center with a name providing a challenge for sign makers since everybody’s going to point and say it is misspelled: Parc Place at Short Pump Town Center, with 96,535 square feet of leaseable space and no word yet on what stores are going inside it.
Also, zoning discussions are under way pertaining to installing a bowling alley near American Family Fitness, but an agreement has not yet been reached.
South of Broad, two more strip centers are going in. The Promenade Shops east of Spring Oak Drive has 39,418 square feet of retail space. Occupying the corner of Lauderdale Road and West Broad Street is the 50,000-square-foot Shoppes at West Gate. Tenants there are to include Bertucci’s Brick Oven Pizzeria and Alltel.
ANATOMY OF A PARKING LOT
Trying to find a space to rest your ride on a Friday evening at the Downtown Short Pump shopping center (you know, the one with the Barnes & Noble and Regal 14) is an effort that may remind some motorists of the Flying Dutchman fable.
The parking tale is complicated, mirroring the evolution of the sprawling 240,727-square-foot center itself and its grand total of 1,477 parking spaces.
The zoning for Skate Nation, American Family Fitness Center, the Burger King and the Arby’s — all officially part of Downtown Short Pump center — was approved by Henrico County in the mid-1990s. The site plan of the center was approved by the county on Oct. 27, 1999, and most of the retail core of the center was completed by 2002 by Florida-based Menin Development. This included the Regal 14 Cinemas (which has 2,835 seats and 55,534 square feet alone) and the Barnes & Noble. Also in this center is TGIFridays and Short Pump Grille.
While the county has lower parking ratios for free-standing restaurants (One space for every 100 square feet) and retail spaces (One space for every 200 square feet), the county’s parking calculation was based on the square footage of the entire center, not specific uses within the center, except for the movie theater.
One space per 250 square feet of leaseable space, regardless of its use, was required by the county. The movie theater ratio was one space for every four theater seats.
“The final mix of uses in a shopping center is not known at the time that the site plan is being approved,” says Kevin J. Wilhite, a county planner. “Less parking is required than for individual uses because a customer who visits a shopping center often visits more than one tenant at a time.”
Menin Development representatives met with Henrico County planners onsite in January 2003 about mounting parking issues.
The meeting prompted Menin to draft a series of solution ideas, for the short-, mid- and long-term. President Craig Menin wrote in a Jan. 31, 2003, letter, “Our goal is to both increase efficiency of the existing 1,477 parking spaces and to add additional spaces where available and practical.”
A proposed long-term solution was acquiring the American Family Fitness and Skate Nation buildings for parking. “There’ve been some discussions about redeveloping American Family and Skate Nation to integrate them better into the center,” Wilhite says.
In the long-term, Menin also considered creating parking in the Levey Parcel, directly behind Skate Nation at Pouncey Tract Road and Interstate 64. Currently, however, that property is under zoning consideration for a possible Bowl America.
Short-term, Menin suggested enforcing employee parking in designated spaces distant from the main parking areas, asking for an exception to landscaping buffers to provide 18 parking spaces along Pouncey Tract Road and adding 22 spaces west of Burger King.
However, Menin sold its interest in the shopping center two months later.
Inland Retail Realty Trust of Oak Brook, Ill., bought its share of Downtown Short Pump on March 20, 2003. Inland Retail spokesperson Rick Fox is aware of the center’s inherent inherited parking challenges.
“We’re not going to write off complaints,” Fox says. “We’re trying to keep an open mind. We fit in with zoning, with what the leases call for. We want to keep clients happy and tenants happy. … Yes, during peak hours, there may be some difficulty in finding a space, but how could we solve the problem to everyone’s satisfaction?”
Tenants would foot any bill to construct an overflow parking area, even if a place could be found to put it. “How far would shoppers be willing to walk?,” Fox asks. In the meantime, Fox says, Inland is keeping options open.