Photo by Ash Daniel
From left: Robin Cage, Beau Cribbs, Jeffry Burden, John Johnson and Andrew Salp — linchpins of neighborly spirit in their respective communities
A neighborhood is more than just a collection of houses, people and amenities. It’s the shared experiences that help to build a community and lasting relationships among neighbors. Many neighborhoods have block parties, summer cook-outs or cocktail parties, but we’ve found five local communities that gather together to celebrate in unique ways.
Read on to learn about The Fauquier Avenue Marathon Party, Halloween on Hanover, Harvard Road Hurricane Parties, Church Hill Candlelight Walk and The 43rd Street Festival of the Arts.
Nine Years and Running: The Fauquier Avenue Marathon Party
Photo by Jay Paul
Jill and Andrew Salp cheer on runners at the Fauquier Avenue Marathon Party
If you’ve ever run the Richmond Marathon or Half-Marathon, you’ve experienced some of the community spirit of the Ginter Park/Bellevue area on the North Side of Richmond. For the past nine years, the neighborhood has come together in the grassy median of Fauquier Avenue on marathon day to eat, drink, socialize and motivate the runners with music, cowbells and encouraging cheers. “While we have a tight-knit neighborhood, a lot of people we don’t usually hang out with come down for the party,” Andrew Salp says. “It helps everyone to know their neighbors better.”
The tradition started when a small group of neighbors decided to gather to cheer on the runners, says Salp, who organized the first party along with his wife, Jill, and neighbor Stacia Alexander. Salp had just run his first marathon in Chicago and remembered how motivating it was to receive encouragement from the race crowd. Living at mile 21.5 of the marathon course, and mile 8.5 of the half-marathon route, they seized the opportunity “to help people get to the finish line and achieve their goals,” he says.
Jason Gartner has lived in the neighborhood for about six years, moving here from Detroit. He says he loves the small-town feel of North Side. “You know everybody and know everybody’s kids,” he says. “It’s just a great community.” He and his family attended the Fauquier Avenue Marathon Party for the first time in 2014. Previously, he had run by it as a half-marathon participant. “It gets you pumped up,” he says.
The party has grown every year, and it even won first place in last year’s Sportsbackers’ Community Spirit Challenge. The group had taken second and third places in previous years. The $500 first-place award was donated to Ask Childhood Cancer Foundation, and the party has contributed more than $2,000 in winnings to local charities over the years. In 2013, attendance at the Fauquier Avenue Marathon Party was down, but it was because a team of 40 neighbors ran the race to raise about $15,000 for the Epilepsy Therapy Project in support of a neighborhood child who has the disorder.
The party begins as the elite half-marathoners fly down the street around 8:10 a.m. and ends when the very last marathoner runs through, usually around 2:30 p.m. For the neighbors who run the half, there’s still time to get home and shower before joining the party to cheer on the full marathoners. Everyone is encouraged to bring food and drink to share, and Salp provides kegs and a sound system and serves as emcee. “I try to read all the names off the runner’s bibs and cheer for them as they come by,” he says.
When the marathon course was rerouted through North Side a few years ago, the party simply moved. “We were in our normal post for the half, then we put everything on a trailer and moved over to the median on Laburnum so we could still have the party for the full marathoners,” Salp says.
In addition to encouragement, the party- goers offer runners everything from water and energy gels to Advil and even shots of liquor. “One year, we thought it would be funny to put a bottle out with little cups,” Salp says. “We thought one or two people would do it. Before we knew it, the bottle was gone.”
Halloween on Hanover
Photo courtesy of Beau Cribbs
The Cribbs’ home on Halloween
If you live on Hanover Avenue in the Fan, you had better like Halloween. For at least 40 years, the street, from the 1900 block to 2300 block, has gone crazy for Halloween. People come from all over the city and beyond to celebrate its over-the-top embrace of ghosts, ghouls and good old-fashioned fun.
Catherine and Beau Cribbs had just returned from their honeymoon in 2013 when they experienced their first Hanover Avenue Halloween as residents of the street. They put out a few decorations and handed out candy, but soon ran out. “Our neighbors gave us a few hundred pieces,” Beau recalls. “Both of us had lived in the Fan prior to moving, and I knew Halloween on Hanover was a big deal because I grew up in Richmond. But being in the middle of it all really changes your perspective.”
With thousands of kids — and adults — roaming the street in search of treats, the Cribbses knew they needed to step up their game going into their second year, if they were going to hang on Hanover. “We went a little crazy,” Beau admits. “We couldn’t help ourselves.”
A seven-and-a-half-foot inflatable Stay Puft Marshmallow Man was the jumping-off point for a Ghostbusters-themed Halloween display. “It was an impulse purchase on Amazon,” Beau says. Catherine created a cardboard cityscape for the Marshmallow Man to trample; green floodlights lit the outside of the house to mimic the look of slime. Red police lights flashed, a sound system played the movie soundtrack, and the couple dressed in character: Beau as a ghostbuster and Catherine as Zuul, the female demon from the movie.
“It was a fun thing for us to do,” Beau says. “We both love the movie, and it’s not too terribly scary. It was a seedling of an idea, and then we both got pretty carried away.
“The reaction was great. We had total strangers coming up to us, wanting to take our picture. A lot of the little kids had no idea who we were, but the parents knew exactly what we were trying to do.” Beau estimates they gave out about 4,000 pieces of candy — “and I mean, it was like, ‘Here’s a Tootsie Roll, please move along.’ ” They gave out full-size candy bars to anyone dressed as a character from Ghostbusters.
Beau estimates they spent three weekends getting ready for Halloween and hundreds of dollars. They view it as money well spent and the start of a new tradition for the couple, as long as they live on Hanover. “We don’t have a choice but to do it again,” he says. “We put so much time, energy and money into having the stuff. We have this huge marshmallow man now. We should probably use it again.”
Church Hill Candlelight Walk
Photo courtesy of John Johnson
The Church Hill Candlelight Walk
When John Johnson moved to Church Hill 10 years ago, he participated in his first vespers service and candlelight walk through the neighborhood during the holidays. “I thought it was such a wonderful event that pulls everyone together in a really positive way,” he says. A former vice president of the Church Hill Neighborhood Association, Johnson has organized the walk for the past six years.
The evening begins at 7 p.m. at St. John’s Church with an ecumenical blessing. As the walkers leave the church, they are given candles just as bagpipers with the Greater Richmond Pipes and Drums march over to lead them through Church Hill.
Up to 500 people walk by candlelight along Franklin Street to Libbie Hill Park, stopping at the Confederate Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument on Libbie Hill, where they sing holiday songs. “We always start with ‘Here Comes Santa Claus,’ ” Johnson says. “Santa Claus comes out and walks through the crowd. We sing about 10 songs and always end with ‘Silent Night.’ ” The event ends in a warming tent, where participants enjoy hot cider and gingersnaps.
“You can see the entire city, with all of the beautiful lights, even downtown with the holiday illumination,” says Johnson.
Johnson has seen attendance at the candlelight walk grow every year, though it is somewhat weather-dependent. “We have had some really tough years with bad weather, but people still show up because it’s a big part of our community,” he says. “When you are walking through the streets with candles and singing together with your neighbors, it’s a real community-builder.”
Harvard Road Hurricane Parties
Photo courtesy of Jeffry Burden
Harvard Road’s Festival of Fish in 2009
While many people would like to forget the wrath of 2003’s Hurricane Isabel, the residents of Harvard Road in Charles Glen commemorate the natural disaster every year with a series of neighborhood parties. The storm that tore the area apart with downed trees, flooding and power outages also brought neighbors in this near West End subdivision closer together.
Jeffry Burden and his family had just moved into their home in Charles Glen four months before Isabel struck. In fact, many of the residents had just moved into the new section of the neighborhood, when they found themselves without power. Some houses were dark for 15 days.
“Everyone’s food was starting to rot,” Burden recalls, “and we all started gravitating toward one another, pooling our resources and grills. We ended up deciding to get together to cook all the seafood in our freezers, since that would go bad first.”
Burden’s home, centrally located on a corner, became the neighborhood hurricane headquarters. He fired up his grill, other neighbors rolled theirs over, and the neighborhood’s first fish fry commenced. “The next night, we got together and cooked all the meat and poultry,” he recalls. “Then a few days later, we had a Mediterranean night with things like spanakopita.” Nearly 20 households came together for the feasts. In addition to sharing meals, they began to form lasting friendships.
“There was not much else going on,” Burden says. “Nobody was going to work, there wasn’t any power, and we just spent a lot of time getting to know each other. The kids would do skits at night by candlelight. The experience really set the tone for the street; we all had this bonding experience.”
Relationships that otherwise may have taken years to form were forged in just a few days. Since then, Burden has kept up the tradition every year with a series of parties during the summer and fall — a Festival of Fish, a Festival of Meat and Poultry, and a Mediterranean Festival. “Now, we not only invite people from the street, but other people from the neighborhood and even people who have moved away,” he says. “Everyone brings and shares food. It’s the legacy of Hurricane Isabel. It continues to help build community. As awful as the hurricane was, we all look back on it fondly because everyone banded together.”
43rd Street Festival of the Arts
Photo courtesy of Robin Cage
The 43rd Street Festival of the Arts
What started 23 years ago as a small outdoor arts festival has become a tradition and point of pride for residents of Forest Hill south of the James River. The 43rd Street Festival of the Arts, this year scheduled for Sept. 12, features about 75 art and fine craft vendors, live music, food, sidewalk chalk art and a chance to mingle with neighbors. The festival is free, but thanks to donation buckets, the event raised more than $12,000 for CARITAS last year.
“It’s a tradition, and that makes people proud,” says Foust, an artist who has lived in the neighborhood for 24 years and who has participated in the festival since its inception. “The festival shows what a cool neighborhood this is.” The festival, along with the weekly Forest Hill Farmers Market and the Music in the Park summer series, helps highlight the area as a vibrant place to live.
The festival was founded by Robin Cage, who owns the 43rd Street Gallery at 1412 W. 43rd St., and by artists Lee Hazlegrove, Barbara Mann and Angie Wiggins. “We were hoping to create a small show that had good artists in it that would emphasize local art,” Cage recalls.
During its first year, the festival featured about 40 artists and was held in the parking lot of the Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, located across the street from the gallery. The festival now is capped at 75 artists and has moved to the streets, encompassing four blocks of this quiet residential neighborhood filled with charming 1920s-era bungalows and four-squares.
Though Cage lives on the other side of town, she says she feels like part of the neighborhood since she spends so much time there in her gallery. “The neighborhood really takes a lot of ownership in the festival,” she says. “Folks clean up their yards and volunteer to help. We have had folks learn about the area because of the show, then move here when they see it is a lively, vibrant area.”
“A lot of people won’t come south of the river,” adds Foust. “The first time they come to our neighborhood, they say, ‘I never knew this was over here, this is lovely.’ It sort of feeds my South Side pride.”