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Richmond's hostel marks its first anniversary. (Photo by Ash Daniel)
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(Photo by Ash Daniel)
A recent Friday evening social hour in Richmond’s year-old hostel just off Second and Main streets finds a telemarketing regulations consultant from New York City shooting pool with a home-schooling convention-goer and a government worker moving here from Seattle.
The consultant, Vidal Cortijo, pauses to explain he’d never stayed in a hostel or been to Richmond, and didn’t know what to expect from either. Of the hostel he exclaims, “This place is amazing.” He gazes around at the big, deep couches, the huge windows, high ceilings, exposed brick and wood floors and large letters arranged around the media corner that declare a welcoming RICHMOND. Hostel and regional activities are posted to clipboards on a wall-sized day planner.
“Reminds me of a real cool loft on the Upper West Side of Manhattan,” he says. He rented a bicycle to visit the Virginia Capitol, the White House of the Confederacy and Belle Isle. “These places are bringing to life the pages of my grammar school history book. It’s a beautiful city, it really is.”
Cortijo says the first time he heard of hostels was in some international spy movie and he figured them for a European conceit. “But I’m a city guy and I like architecture and history, so I found this place online and wanted to have this experience in my life and I’m glad I did.”
HI Richmond (HI is for Hostelling International) opened last Aug. 29, just ahead of the UCI Road World Championships that came swooping around the front entrance. The hostel — think of it as a cross between a hotel and a dormitory with a little Airbnb sprinkled in — can accommodate 58 guests. The base rate for a six-bed dorm room is $30 a night per person, plus taxes and fees. Private rooms for up to two or four people start at $79 and $99, but can vary depending on the season. (For current rates, check here.) Breakfast is included, and there is a communal kitchen where guests can make and share meals. Membership in the nonprofit HI is required; you can join on a nightly basis at registration for $3.
As HI Richmond approaches its anniversary, manager Ethan E. Ashley is pleased to report business is great. Ashley, who came down from Washington and now lives a few blocks from the hostel, says that since this was the first year of the first hostel in Richmond, he established a conservative budget, but revenue has exceeded projections each month.
So, who is hosteling in Richmond? The completed Capital Trail brings guests who are finishing or starting their trek. The East Coast Greenway, the 2,500-mile route linking Maine to Florida, passes in front of the hostel and that organization’s board of trustees were guests. Some participants in the recent Second Best Comedy Fest of the Coalition Theater also bunked at the hostel. Concert-goers for The National often spend the night, Ashley says.
The hostel is in a Colonial Revival building that was first a manufacturing plant for the Otis Elevator Co. and later, a state Department of Corrections transitional facility for women. Oddly, given its past, the building has no elevator, but does have a chair lift in the loading bay that can get guests to the first floor. It also features a large brushed metal dining table with circular seats left from the building’s Department of Corrections days.
Among the special touches is storage space for bicycles, canoes and kayaks. Guest rooms include plug-ins for electronic devices in the bed frames and two switches in the bunk rooms, one for late-night arrivals that provides a guiding, but not blinding light. Toiletries, bedding and linens are provided, but guests must remember to bring their sheets down for laundering. If this dissuades anybody, it isn’t reflected in the guest register, which is filled with effusive comments written by visitors from New Zealand, Egypt, Germany and The Netherlands.
“Travel is a means of education, I sincerely believe that,” says Community Engagement Coordinator Manon Loustaunau. Her job is to provide programming for guests and act as a liaison between HI Richmond and the community, which can include organizing talks on the city’s history, community dinners and extending educational offerings to travelers in collaboration with the nearby main branch of the Richmond Public Library.
“You don’t have to spend a huge amount of money to have these experiences and meet people from all over the world,” she says. “You can’t help but learn.”
HI Richmond is part of the nonprofit Hostelling International’s constellation of 4,000 hostels. The concept for a Richmond location brewed for years and nearly became a reality during the 400th Jamestown anniversary in 2007. Administrative changes within Hostelling International and the Great Recession of ’08 disrupted the timetable. Richmond Realtor Faye Hager and state trails coordinator Jennifer Wampler, who, with her husband, previously ran an Appalachian Trail hostel, served on the building search committee. Wampler called upon John L. Russell, a hostels advocate since the early 1960s, for guidance and support.
Hager located the building at 7 N. Second St. Public and private financing paid for the extensive renovation.
Among the Friday socializers is Portsmouth home-schooler Rianna Riley, who experienced hostel living in England. She found HI Richmond on Hotels.com and hopped a ride to Richmond. “I’m within walking distance of the convention center and in a part of the city I feel safe in,” she says. “I’m knocked out by how beautiful this place is —it’s a cross between a hotel and hostel. I feel at home here.”
Editor's note: This article includes corrected information about the hostel's rates, guest capacity and the community engagement coordinator's role.