Venture Richmond ad campaign looks to draw people back downtown

A sample ad in Venture Richmond’s “The Faces of Your Downtown” campaign. (Images courtesy of Venture Richmond)

Following a year of civil unrest and a pandemic that has rocked urban centers across the country, a Richmond booster group is looking to change the perception of downtown as a place of empty streets and boarded-up storefronts.

Venture Richmond has launched a promotional campaign highlighting the people and places that are keeping downtown open for business. Called “Faces of Your Downtown,” the series of ads and business profiles aim to reconnect people with the businesses and owners they may have missed while working from home.

The campaign is tied to Venture Richmond’s #MeetMeDowntown initiative, and adds to other efforts the nonprofit has made in the past year to encourage consumers to support the city’s small businesses, nonprofits and cultural attractions.

Lisa Sims, CEO of Venture Richmond, said the idea for the “Faces” campaign came from Amy Cabaniss, owner of Julep’s restaurant on East Grace Street.

Lisa Sims

“She said it would be so great if we could just remind people: you know these people, you know the business owners, you know these businesses, they need your help now,” Sims said.

“We have watched with dismay over the last year how some of the small businesses downtown are doing. We had COVID, obviously, so lots of major offices closed or sent employees to work from home. We have close to 80,000 people who work downtown, and when they go home and they’re not downtown, obviously, businesses suffer.”

Combine that with a drop in business travel that has meant fewer people filling area hotels, and Sims said the foot traffic that shops had been used to is no longer there, adding to a perception that downtown is closed or unsafe.

Sims said the civil unrest of the past year, with demonstrations that inevitably reached downtown and its government buildings, further fueled such perceptions, from what she and her staff has heard from business owners and customers.

Much of the downtown stretch of Broad Street was left boarded up after a night of protests and vandalism in early June. (BizSense file photo)

“We have heard that, with the social justice demonstrations this summer, perhaps some people might have felt, with marches and that sort of thing, that it was not a safe place to be,” Sims said. “We have not found that to be true, obviously, but the perception probably remains.”

In timing the campaign, Sims added, “We wanted to wait until we felt that it was OK, that people could come back downtown and there would be enough room in restaurants and stores and that people could actually conduct business because things would be open.”

Produced in-house, the campaign rolled out late last year with photos and profiles of such people and places as Cindy Kalfoglou of Gus’s Shoe Repair, Janine Bell of Elegba Folklore Society, Katie Ukrop of Quirk Hotel and Gallery, and Barksdale “Barky” Haggins of Barky’s Record Shop.

An ad in the “Faces of Your Downtown” series features Janine Bell of Elegba Folklore Society.

Others featured include Daniel Griffin of Havana ’59, David Waller of Waller & Co. Jewelers, Jennie Skinner of Sefton Coffee Co., Herman Baskerville of Big Herm’s Kitchen, and customers at Saadia’s Juicebox & Yoga Bar.

Photographer Jay Paul was enlisted to take the photos and provided content for the write-ups. Sims said a second wave of ads featuring other businesses and owners is set to roll out in early February.

“We’re trying to prime the pump a little bit,” Sims said. “When more people begin to be vaccinated, when people feel safer, when the people who work in those tall buildings downtown start coming back to work, we want them to remember all of these businesses. And frankly, we want people to come downtown now. Downtown is open for business.”

Sims said response to the campaign has been positive, with several shops reporting business received from the ads.

Venture Richmond’s “The Faces of Your Downtown” campaign was produced in-house.

“We have heard from some people who have said that someone reached out to them, saw the ad, and came in and made a major purchase, so we hope it’s working,” she said.

“I think sometimes people think of a municipality as this big monolithic thing, and downtown, it’s just a series of buildings with people in them. The people who are there, none of this is any fault of theirs,” she said. “Many of them have invested everything they have in these businesses.”

Sims acknowledged that it could take more than vaccines for downtown to return to a pre-pandemic state. But she noted that Richmond is not alone in that challenge.

“We are part of the International Downtown Association, and I can assure you there is not one downtown in the United States that has not been through exactly what we’re going through,” she said. “I don’t want people to think that this is just all about Richmond. It’s not. It’s every urban area, particularly the very specific downtown areas, that are suffering, and it is across the board. It’s everywhere.”

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Mike Patterson
Mike Patterson
8 days ago

No thanks. Richmond should have thought about the consequences when they were encouraging rioters to trash the city. Until Richmond starts expecting more of its leaders and holds them accountable all our money will be going to Henrico county.

Gus Shay
Gus Shay
8 days ago
Reply to  Mike Patterson

So very true!! I talked with a number of owners and they all saw drops in patronage during and SUBSEQUENT to this disaster. If you wanted to bring back people to the city, you should first begin with the mayor. He has ruined our City.

Mike Patterson
Mike Patterson
8 days ago
Reply to  Gus Shay

No matter how bad things get Richmond city will never consider voting for someone unless there’s a (D) next to their name. The only thing keeping Richmond from being Petersburg is VCU, federal tax credits and having a neighboring, well-run county like Henrico to siphon off of. The downward spiral is only going to continue and Henrico county,
to the detriment of the city, is only going to shine brighter.

Sara Marie
Sara Marie
8 days ago

It’s always a pleasure to see Richmond’s small businesses and the folks working hard to keep them running, highlighted. These ads stand out, spreading awareness and positive messaging. Nice work, Jay Paul & Venture Richmond.

Jay Wells
Jay Wells
8 days ago

Unfortunate the Mayor and Governor allowed downtown to become slum city. Will never go downtown again. I feel for anyone who owns a small business or is trying to bring tourism back to Richmond. All you have to show is graffiti and boarded up businesses. But hey at least DC was protected by the National Guard during the inauguration.

Mark Slater
Mark Slater
8 days ago
Reply to  Jay Wells

I could not agree with you more, Jay! I live near Byrd Park. Rioters marched in, some openly displaying guns, and trashed the park. There was not a single police officer on the ground — just a helicopter and plane flying over in circles. Only the politicians get protection. Citizens’ lives in Richmond have no value.

Steve Bryznik
Steve Bryznik
7 days ago
Reply to  Mark Slater

What an ugly and untrue comment. I live in Byrd Park and I was there for the two/three days of protests. Protestors defaced the statue of Columbus and nothing else. The park was just fine because 1. I was there and 2. I walk my dogs and exercise there 4-6x a day. I can tell you that park is has more trash after nice sunny weekend days from families coming visiting than any other days. Stop fear mongering. Richmond city had some protests. You act like we are on fire or something. I don’t want to get political on these… Read more ?

John Lindner
John Lindner
8 days ago

The lingering effects of year’s events have been tougher on downtown than most people realize, unless you live here. Still, I have to say that rumors of its demise are greatly exaggerated. RVA is blessed with a strong business community and leaders like Lisa Sims and Venture Richmond that continue to invest in its future. I wouldn’t count us out yet!

Scott Burger
Scott Burger
8 days ago

Is this the best use of public taxpayer dollars? City of Richmond is more than downtown.

Justin Fritch
Justin Fritch
7 days ago
Reply to  Scott Burger

We all know the best use of taxpayer dollars is to buy everyone solar panels and to keep the exclusive Oregon Hill neighborhood from progressing with the rest of the inner city. /s

Alan Headings
Alan Headings
8 days ago

This article is ridiculous! After one night of rioting? How about after a solid month of rioting, with antifa still now camped out on Monument Avenue? Those poor business owners should quickly leave the city for the suburbs, because no one will be going downtown again. And this is what all of my neighbors say, their neighbors say and all of my customers throughout Henrico county and Chesterfield county say.. The city will be left to the ever-dwindling city dwellers who are losing property value exponentially, who were complicit in the “unrest” along the very business owners themselves who hung… Read more ?

Last edited 8 days ago by Alan Headings
ian johnson
ian johnson
8 days ago
Reply to  Alan Headings

Care to show any proof of city dwellers “losing property value exponentially?” our market is experiencing record highs in volume and sale prices

Jay Wells
Jay Wells
7 days ago
Reply to  ian johnson

Give it time. Property Values will go down.

Last edited 7 days ago by Jay Wells
Scott Wysocki
Scott Wysocki
8 days ago

When covid restrictions finally lift there will be a lot more people out again. Manchester is still growing as well as downtown. It is just a rough time right now. Hopefully everything will get back to normal.

Travis Jordan
Travis Jordan
8 days ago

I will say this I like how Venture Richmond is trying to Revive Richmond back but I’ve lived in Chesterfield all my life and I feel safe there. After seeing all the rioting a lot in the summer my friends and a lot of people in Chesterfield don’t feel safe going downtown anymore. Shortpump and Western Chesterfield I feel safe at. But I do wish the small businesses luck and hope they get back on their feet soon.

Bruce Milam
Bruce Milam
7 days ago

I’m often asked by the suburban country club set if I feel safe in the City. To my knowledge not one of my city friends has ever felt threatened by those BLM protests. It’s been covid, not the protests, that have closed the street shops and restaurants. Once we have the population vaccinated, the offices will refill, the sidewalks will teem with shoppers again, and the plywood will be removed from the storefronts. Property values continue to rise unabated. Thousands more apartments are being built. The City will rebound nicely. Let’s get those shots! Herd immunity by death is not… Read more ?

Mike Patterson
Mike Patterson
7 days ago
Reply to  Bruce Milam

If it were the pandemic then Henrico county wouldn’t be booming like it is. Instead shops and restaurants are as full as they can be and will continue to be. Meanwhile Richmond city has to run ad campaigns to try to get people to visit.

Last edited 7 days ago by Mike Patterson
Bruce Milam
Bruce Milam
7 days ago
Reply to  Mike Patterson

Meanwhile suburban shopping malls are failing one after the other and the County planners are finally acknowledging the need to covert them to allow high density residential rezonings. Suburban office parks are seeing a serious decline in occupancy, and assessments and sales prices are falling. The vacant office Park lots are all going to be apartments. Suburban hotels (well, all hotels) are seeing poor numbers. What’s working in the suburbs is whats always worked: residential subdivision, apartment building, and warehouse/distribution development. Let’s not make more about the BLM protest than it was as a factor in small shops getting hurt… Read more ?

charles Frankenhoff
charles Frankenhoff
6 days ago
Reply to  Mike Patterson

Mike Patterson, do you even pay attention to what’s happening in Henrico? Go visit VCC mall. Or regency. etc. etc.

Richmond didn’t handle the protests well. But people like you overstate things by a thousand percent. It’s history, and a hiccup, not a heart attack.

The last protest took place in Henrico, on Broad street. Last week. It destroyed the area of course… /sarcasm. Bet you didn’t even notice it if you didn’t drive by

Betsy Gardner
Betsy Gardner
7 days ago

The rioting and mayhem was really more the nail in the coffin. The extended Pulse construction was another fiasco that created confusing traffic patterns, unpredictable and non-existent parking and led to people avoiding downtown. Add in the even more confusing Franklin Street bike lanes and parking and the downtown most knew of is just not as “user friendly” as it was. It also told visitors and city dwellers that RVA’s other agendas are way more important than you.

karl hott
karl hott
7 days ago

Racial inequity protests happened spontaneously in 250+ cities last summer (40 places in Texas alone). Remember, frightened county experts, that the world is bigger than Richmond. By all means stay in your county if you don’t feel safe in the city. We’ll have all the fun while you wait for a table at Bonefish Grill. Stop being petty. Or don’t. We’ll move forward while you’re shopping at Kohl’s.

Mike Patterson
Mike Patterson
7 days ago
Reply to  karl hott

Why is it ‘petty’ to give your dollars to the municipality that’s being run wisely and hasn’t been run into the ground? They call it ‘free markets’ last I looked.

charles Frankenhoff
charles Frankenhoff
6 days ago
Reply to  Mike Patterson

unless you are living in some strange bubble of communism, you are giving your dollars to businesses, not the municipality.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d be pretty shocked to find you’ve ever visited the City with any frequency. This is like me boycotting Nebraska, a place I’ve never been and don’t intend to go to, ie utterly meaningless

Justin Fritch
Justin Fritch
7 days ago

I am willing to bet that the commentators focusing on the brief May riot are the same county residents that have also been claiming for the past decade that the city is “too dangerous” despite the massive decline in violent crime. These are the same people that will hark about 6th Market Place as if Richmond is still in the death throes of the 90’s. They have never known the beauty that is nationally recognized Richmond and likely never will try. When the pandemic wanes and we can enjoy life again, Richmond will come out stronger than ever.

Mike Patterson
Mike Patterson
7 days ago
Reply to  Justin Fritch

Nah. We just have a choice where to go and are not choosing the city. No more, no less. You can trash the county if you’d like but it’s night and day more well run than Richmond city. That’s pretty obvious to anyone paying attention. Lower taxes, lower crime, better schools, etc. Need I go on?

karl hott
karl hott
7 days ago
Reply to  Mike Patterson

Please don’t venture beyond the borders of your idyllic county with a superb bond rating, Mike. It’s a dangerous and financially mismanaged world out here. I hope you find inner peace where you live, but didn’t I see you in Carytown over the weekend?

Mike Patterson
Mike Patterson
7 days ago
Reply to  karl hott

Karl relax bro. No matter what happens you’ll always be more woke than we county folk. That and 4 quarters is probably worth a buck. So there’s that.

Wade Barrow
Wade Barrow
6 days ago
Reply to  karl hott

Yes, yes. Of course Covid knocked the economy on its back and remains the primary reason for listless economic activity. But, under such harsh conditions, with many small businesses reeling from the lockdowns, was it really a good idea to let certain business districts be overrun and vandalized this summer? Set aside prejudice and preference. Even for those who move outside of suburban country club circles, there is more than sufficient anecdotal evidence to know that an impact has occurred from the response to the riots. Long before moving to the area, we enjoyed coming to Richmond. It was easy… Read more ?

Justin Fritch
Justin Fritch
7 days ago
Reply to  Mike Patterson

Of course you all have a choice but there is no need to trash the city with falsities to justify it. While you may prefer suburban living, many of us (a significantly increasing amount in fact) are willing to pay a little more for better access to quality amenities, culture, mobility, and unique abundance of nature in an urban setting. We can justify our decisions without the need to trash the alternatives.

charles Frankenhoff
charles Frankenhoff
6 days ago
Reply to  Mike Patterson

Henrico is much better run. But the city is much more fun. I’d rather deal with city incompetence than the slow death by boredom that comes from living a life defined by strip malls and subdivisions and driving everywhere.

The ideal is Richmond amenities run by the Henrico govt I’ll grant.

Brenda Rinetti
Brenda Rinetti
7 days ago

The sense I get from the comments from pearl-clutchers in Henrico and Chesterfield commenting here is that living/working/spending money in Richmond isn’t for everyone. If you agree, you’re right! If you disagree, you’re right!