Photo by Adam Ewing
Christie Griffin with her Richmond-native fiancé on their balcony at Riverside on the James
Moving to Richmond was, in my mind, never an option.
I started trekking to the River City in late 2009 to visit my long-distance boyfriend, Chris. In those early days, I was going through one of the most vile phases many New Yorkers experience at some point -- the one where we are so obsessed with our lives in Manhattan that we simply can’t fathom why anyone would live anywhere else.
You call this a city? Please. You can’t even hail a cab!
Fast forward a few years to where Chris’ sales career was thriving and had become just as fulfilling to him as my national magazine career was to me. By that point, I had done what I went to New York to do, and there were other chapters in my life I finally felt ready to write. A diamond ring appeared all of a sudden — and big choices had to be made.
So, after 10 years of living and working in the Big Apple and frequent weekend visits to Richmond — 31, to be exact — I had a good idea of what to expect with moving here.
There wouldn’t be a bodega on every corner that I could walk to when I needed something like milk or light bulbs. I wouldn’t see Ethan Hawke sitting to the left of my dinner table and Chris Noth to the right. Driving a car — for what would be the sixth time in an entire decade — would become a daily chore. The list could keep going, but it would more or less be true of any city I moved to outside of New York. Meanwhile, Richmond felt familiar enough to me by then: I knew all about the Tacky Light Tour, the Monument Avenue 10K and the rise of Sweet Frog.
Of course, there are unexpected things that will strike a nerve about any new town. I have my collection of little gripes, like how the bugs look like they’re from Jurassic Park. One of my biggest grumbles about Richmond, though, is that public transportation (the bus) takes far too long and stops on what seems to be every. single. block. If you want to leave your car at home and get somewhere in Richmond, you had better have plenty of time to kill. This aspect goes hand in hand with my complaint that Richmond is spread out and simply isn’t a city you can get around on foot, which is a big adjustment now that I’m a local.
There’s also a slower pace here, a lack of urgency. Maybe that’s supposed to be the charming part of the South or I’m just unfairly comparing it to the voracity of New York, but it’s a constant battle for me to not let my eyes glaze over as people talk for too long, pedestrians walk with zero pace, and business owners glue themselves to outdated ways. To me, there’s very little that feels at stake in Richmond.
A huge exception, however, is the region’s food scene, which is innovative, competitive and full of talent. As a visitor, I noticed the restaurants seemed to be getting better and better, which hinted Richmond might be on an uptick — and could be trusted as my new home. Since moving here, I’ve been floored by the food. It’s not New York, but it’s my favorite thing about my new city. There are the stellar longtime staples like Millie’s and Lemaire, while the new restaurants are helping elevate it into a foodie town, along with a craft beer explosion. I tend to compare Richmond’s dining options directly to Washington, D.C.’s because Chris lived there for most of 2013 ... and we were often disappointed by the district’s culinary scene.
Another of my favorite surprises is the city’s street art. For eight of my 10 years in Manhattan, I lived smack dab in the middle of Greenwich Village (Bleecker and Thompson, if you know it), which is a very eclectic neighborhood. I was always filled with so much joy when I’d walk past talented street performers and artists. The Richmond Mural Project is a recent initiative, but it’s actually made a potent difference in the way I relate to my new city. Spotting a little vampire painted on a wall here or a flock of bicycling bumblebees there mimics the same “Surprise! How cool is this?” emotion that I felt countless times back home. You know when you smell something that brings back a good memory? It’s like that, every time.
The last big thing is elevator chatter, but it’s the truth: The weather here is nice, at least to me. It makes me feel like I’ve been on vacation, compared to living in the Northeast and my Midwestern hometown in Indiana, 28 miles from Chicago.
So, here I am with my tasty food, studying a street mural, not watching guys in suits sprint-walk through midtown Manhattan. Or I’m sitting on my butt and reluctantly driving, but in a cute MINI Cooper convertible on a sunshiney day. Or I’m wondering what’s taking so long at the grocery store, and then having a lovely conversation with the cashier. Or I’m being the designated driver so everyone can get home safely, and then dozing off in my bed to the river’s roar instead of waking up to honking cabs. Did I mention I live in an apartment overlooking the James River? I get to sit on my balcony and watch kayakers paddle and bald eagles fly, instead of stopping to Instagram a fleeting speck of nature in New York.
The trade-offs are certainly growing on me — all while I finally enjoy a life with my soon-to-be husband. Richmond isn’t my beloved concrete jungle, but it’s working its way into my heart.