The Blog Squad

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Prepare to Have Your World Rocked

Local geologists are predicting what they term a "significant seismic event" in the metro Richmond area on June 5. Oddly, the "event" will not originate underground but on the ground, the second that thousands of copies of the Richmond Times-Dispatch hit the driveways.

You see, next Tuesday, the paper will unveil changes to virtually every section of the paper.

It's instructive to remember what has happened every time the paper has tried to make the slightest changes in the past. Surely, the obituary section was overflowing last year in the weeks after some changes were made to it with the old people who just keeled over from the shock. At that time, the paper changed the typeface of the death notices, along with the way the listings were presented. Naturally, there was a great hue and cry and the paper retreated somewhat from the changes. There have been similar uproars over the placement of comics, changes to the TV listings and the Weekend section. Nobody ever seems to get up in arms about news coverage.

Nevertheless, the T-D is bravely jumping feet first with changes Senior Editor Rick Thornton called "subtle" in a piece on Sunday, May 20. You can almost hear the whole building over there holding their breath and trying to convince Old Richmond this next wave of change is nothing to worry about. "You may look at the newspaper June 5 and think, 'There's something a little different here, but I can't quite put my finger on it.' That's the goal," Thornton writes. An admirable goal, indeed, but when you then list 16 bulleted items of changes in a town with a reputation for regarding change as a proper and good thing only when it applies to undergarments and smoke detector batteries, you have to expect a little backlash.

It will be interesting to see how much sticks and how much the paper is forced to back down on. I will also be watching closely to see if there is an increase in canned content (oh, to be rid of "Today in History!" Really? Ted McGinley from Happy Days? His birthday is history?) I'm also curious to see where coverage of the arts is headed.

Tune in Tuesday. And let's get ready to rumble.

—Janet Giampietro

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

City Council, the Mayor and Change

Given that I polished off a bag of microwave popcorn just last night, there’s a strangely chemical taste in my mouth this morning after seeing reports over the holiday weekend about PFOA, a likely cancer-causing agent that’s apparently coursing through the veins of most Americans. And, yeah, it’s said to be abundantly present in items such as microwaveable popcorn bags.

Small mercy, then, that today brings some distraction in the governmental realm. This afternoon, Richmond City Council will meet at 3 p.m. in City Hall in a “special hearing” to talk with Mayor L. Douglas Wilder’s administration about the panel’s rejection of Harry E. Black as the city’s chief administrative officer. Then, in its regular semimonthly session, at 6 p.m., the Council will vote on a package of budget items for the upcoming fiscal year, beginning in July.

In our May magazine, contributing writer Greg Weatherford wrote about Black’s career and professional reputation in light of Council’s confirmation vote, which was pending at time of publication. In considering Black for the CAO job, some Council members questioned his communication style and his qualifications.

Richmond Magazine spoke with City Council President William J. Pantele on Thursday, and the Councilman reiterated the panel’s concerns over Black. In our May article, our editors inserted some clarified numbers regarding the projected cost of two “emergency” outside audits by a Washington, D.C., firm that Wilder’s administration ordered to examine the schools and the city’s assessor’s office. The contract to audit the assessor’s office was for $269,000 while the schools audit was $224,000.

At the time, in mid-April, Black told our magazine that he projected the city would have to pay the D.C. firm about half of the total bill for those two audits, which would put the city’s outlay somewhere around $250,000. Weeks later, during one of the mayor’s town hall meetings, Black told a District 1 resident that the total outlay was expected to be $89,000. I confirmed this figure with Black last week, who said that the entire issue was enough of a moving target that he originally cited the best cost estimates he could at the time.

But the issue of changing numbers is what concerns Pantele, who says that in Council’s dealings with Black’s office it’s often “hard to get a straight answer.”

While Black’s resume shows experience in D.C. city government, Pantele says he thinks that Richmond needs a more seasoned senior figure — in the image of Chesterfield’s retiring county manager, Lane Ramsey — to help guide the city’s operations.

In the meantime, Council’s budget amendments, which face a final vote tonight, include another effort in the city’s general push for accountability. In light of City Auditor Umesh V. Dalal’s audit of the city fleets, Pantele pointed out last week that the Council has, so far, given a nod toward creating a new position, the Office of the Inspector General, to investigate and prosecute fraud and corruption in the city’s governmental ranks. It’s an idea borrowed from other localities in the nation, and according to Pantele, it’s a function that could help identify tens of millions of dollars in fraudulent city spending.

It’s an idea that’s likely even to get wholehearted approval from the mayor, especially given his assurances of keeping an open door and open mind.

—Jack Cooksey

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

“Some Assembly Required”

In our June issue, which should be hitting newsstands and mailboxes any day now, we included a piece about the Virginia Center for Architecture’s upcoming exhibit “Some Assembly Required,” which explores the world of prefabricated homes. It should be noted that the exhibit, originally scheduled to open June 12, will now debut a few days later on June 15. The eight case studies of modern prefab homes — scale models, photographs and video interviews with the architects — will be on display through Sept. 30. For more information, call 644-3041. —Sarah K. McDonald

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

My Interrupted Regularly Scheduled Programming

Last night, Monday, May 21, I was at my house going about my glamorous professional journalism life as I cleaned the cat boxes and unloaded the dishwasher (though not at the same time). The TV was going on, I'd tried to find appropriate background noise for these activities, and settled upon a History Channel show about pirates. Why pirates and why now? Those folks at History know on which side their bread is buttered. The next installment of the importantly talented Johnny Depp lerching around in a pirate costume is due out any minute. The History Channel is held in joint ownership by General Electric, Hearst Communications and Disney, the film's proudcer.

This was I guess around 12:30 or so.

An expert on a sailboat was talking about the variety of flintlock weapons pirates used when boarding a vessel. Then the image went out with a slight pop. The screen was not black, or blue, but this indeterminate grey, like some broadband fog. The image popped back, and we were a-pirating again. Then it occurred again. I'm thinking: those damn tree limbs out back, I gotta get them cut down. I reached for the remote to see what might be transpiring — back to CNN — and it, too, was grey. Then with a pop, I was seeing a wobbling video of ... a wrestling match? Looked small-time, not a big stadium, a huge guy slamming a tough little guy with a gleaming new metal trash can. No sound. Pop! Back with Anderson Cooper and some expert on the fomenting Lebanon, then POP! Back to the action on the mat, and one fighter leaping out of the melee then another going in and the crowd, a few hundred maybe, waving signs. And now I was really mystified. My cat box strainer scoop in hand, I started flicking channels and to my amazement learned that almost every channel between around 14 to 42 was broadcasting this strange wrestling match.

I confess that I got a little nervous.

Several things went through my mind at once as I stood transfixed by this ridiculous display that wouldn't be weird in any other context except this one. First, I was listening for outside noises: screams, car crashes, air raid sirens. Second, the Max Headroom Chicago television broadcast pirating incident of Nov. 22, 1987. Two separate moments on that evening, one during WGN-TV's evening news at 9 p.m. for a few moments and no video, and the second during a Dr. Who episode at 11 p.m. that went on for about 90 seconds. The character in the mask makes strange statements, there's a spanking, and out. This television pirate wasn't ever caught.

My wrestling match went on for I believe about 10 minutes.

I thought, also, about the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard who died on March 6. Perhaps he was the ghost in my machine. Baudrillard argued that the pervasiveness of contemporary media denies actual experience and that it manufactures a "hyperreality" that prevents authentic thought. The entire corpus of Baudrillard was understood decades ago by a woman my wife Amie knew. She was quite young, and the lady came to clean the house. She took a break to watch TV and when someone criticized her for watching soap operas, she just shrugged and replied that everything on television is a story. That is, the moon walk, assassinations, wars are indistinguishable from Days of Our Lives.

While transfixed by the blurry image of two sweaty bruisers in colorful costumes going at it with choreographed angry abandon in a chain link cage, I realized that whoever had hijacked this signal thought that a bold statement for the authentic was getting slathered across the television.

Except that it wasn't.

Wrestling is another one of our "stories." If somebody had instead come on and started reading a Baudrillard text (in French), sitting in front of a grey background, while wearing sunglasses and a jumpsuit, maybe that would've impressed me more, and perhaps been scarier.

I went out upon my front porch into the pleasant night air just to see if any havoc was unleashed by this event (thus proving that I am a 21st century U.S. man--thinking television has immediate effects on my physical world-- which it does sometimes in moments of great crisis). Would I encounter other residents of my street, in their shorts and T-shirts, blinking back at me, shrugging, calling to me, "Is this weird wrestling match on your TV, too?" But that didn't happen. Just me, the crickets, and a yellow crescent moon.

So on the Harry Kollatz Jr. weirdness meter, with 10 being a UFO landing in my yard, this ranks about three: a random event of unexplained origins, made more interesting because it occurred in the middle of a program about pirates.

The interruption winked out just as it had winked in, and I went back to the underworld caverns of Budapest and finding places for dishes that had not just become clean, but apparently multiplied while in the washer.

Trying to be a journalist, this morning I put in calls to Comcast headquarters in Philadelphia and to media relations here in Richmond. I was sent on a round robin of various one-named people in offices were their duties were pronounced too fast. One coherent Erica in customer relations here said she'd received one query about the late-night television interruption but she'd been provided no explanation.

If anyone else viewed this event, please comment. —Harry Kollatz Jr.

Update: Nothing To See Here.

The helpful Lisa Hartman, a regional Comcast spokesperson, jingled me after lunch. What happned was, Comcast schedules periodic technical maintenance for upgrades and such. These occur between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. While "making some changes and configurations," (The title of my first album) the Comcast channels were defaulting to our very own community access channel that was showing--you guessed it-- a local wrestling match. Hartman indicated that the sleeper hold put on the channels wasn't nationwide, nor did it even affect the entire region, just pockets, including mine.

All this proves me and the dead Baudrillard correct. No, this wasn't a forced interruption of the media-meta matrix, like when the Joker or V. or the aliens break into programming to denounce the establishment and make known their demands.

It was just a goof.


This now goes to a .5 on the Harry "Show Me The Magic" Kollatz Jr. Weirdness Scale. Romance is dead. —Harry Kollatz Jr.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

A Troubled Bridge Over Water

Years ago I wrote an essay in Style Weekly which was all about the broken digital clock at the Carytown CVS that used to greet motorists heading west on Floyd Avenue with times like h:72 and temperatures that forewarned the global warming crisis: 216 degrees. I loved that clock precisely because it was broken and still forged ahead doing its job, sort of. And so it was with sadness that I bid adieu to that clock (which they removed shortly after I wrote my tribute to it). But the sadness I felt will prove nothing compared to the heavy heart I will carry the day I must say goodbye to the true icon of brokenness in Richmond — the Huguenot Bridge.

The Virginia Department of Transportation has announced that the 58-year old span will be replaced, with work beginning in 2011. I know it must go, but still it's hard. Crossing that bridge for the past few years has been like watching grandma holding on for too long. You're rooting for her, but at the same time, you know it's time to let go.

And so it is with our beloved Huguenot Bridge, a veritable quilt of concrete and asphalt that has had more work done than Cher and Melanie Griffith combined. On the upside, it is the only truly off-road experience where all those Richmond Hummer owners can get their kicks.

Some 28,000 cars pass over the Huguenot every day, and some motorists even feel the need to "hold their breath" as they cross, Del. Katherine Waddell said in this morning's Times-Dispatch. The bridge's surface has been rated poor and its support system only fair. Grandma's not looking so good, folks. She's only got about four years. Tops. —Janet Giampietro

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Let The Free Fun Begin

When I think about all the reasons that I love living in the city, Dogwood Dell is top on my list. It’s a great use of my tax dollars (although I certainly wish more of them were sent that way). And the good news is that this series is open to everyone — even you guys way out in the ‘burbs. I love that the music/performance series exposes people to things that they otherwise might not have been exposed to. And parents, bring your kids along. Because it’s free, you’ve got nothing to lose.

Last year I heard opera music, tapped my toes to traditional Celtic tunes and saw a musical. And this year promises excitement, too. So load up the picnic basket with treats and bug spray, and make sure you go to at least one Dell event this summer. My family’s already planning on attending the annual Fourth of July festivities. A sampling of this season’s schedule follows. Dates and acts are subject to change; times vary. Call 646-1437 for more information.

June 8, Richmond Ballet; June 9, KOS; June 10, Richmond Boys Choir and Ban Caribe; June 17, Jonathan Austin; June 24, Barefoot Puppets and David Esleck Trio; June 30, Plunky and Oneness; July 1, Applause Unlimited; July 4, Bak N Da Day, Lawrence Robinson, Richmond Concert Band and fireworks; July 6, Charmaine Crowell White; July 7, The Concert Ballet of Virginia; July 15, Judy Pancoast; July 19, Ezibu Muntu African Dance; July 20, Los Gatos; July 21, The Celtibillies; July 22, Dylan Pritchett and Cora Armstrong & Full D; July 27, SPARC Summerstarz and Page Wilson & Reckless Abandon; July 28, Linda & Robin Williams. — Sarah K. McDonald

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Oops — I Didn't Mean To Offend

Artist Jamie Boling, who maintains a studio at Plant Zero, without intention answered a few parental wishes by putting a sheet over Britney Spears.

Boling, a Kansas City, Mo., native who has a temporary teaching appointment at Virginia Commonwealth University, didn't realize that his pop culture-referencing work on display now would itself brush up against the sensibilities of political life. When U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama's advance team came to check out the Plant Zero space for a May 8 reception hosted by Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, they needed a gut check about some of Boling's work.

It isn't that the two pieces they found troubling are obscene. But if by some random happenstance, that the candidate should be pictured near the paintings, within this high tension, zero-sum, blog-frenzy media-drenched society of the spectacle in which we at present find ourselves, somebody somewhere maybe could make something of how Obama came to be there alongside the images. And, the pictures themselves might prove volatile if placed in a political situation.

Boling recontextualizes images from magazines, television and film as art. That this little incident overlaps with his own creative endeavor isn't lost on him. Boling, who has spent months studying at the Louvre and knows his art history, is having a little fun with these giant pieces while also trying to make a point. One work, "Snake Charmer" an oil on canvas measuring 72" x 120" depicts the sudden iconographic image of Spears alighting from her car as the soon-to-be-jailed Paris Hilton is caught in a half-smile in the background. The offensive part of the image isn't even there. Why? Everybody's seen it already. The image isn't really erotic, but more like what it is: a sudden paparazzi picture taken on the fly that just happened to capture Spears in the act of, well, not being ladylike.

The second image is taken from "Fast Times At Ridgemont High" with the exact same large size, titled "Honest Abe" and shows a female torso in a red T-shirt with "KILL LINCOLN" emblazoned across a braless chest. Ah, sex and violence, can we not get away from it? As Pauline Kael, in a knowing and reductive manner, and with the intention of full-frontal punning titled her second volume of film criticism: "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang." Kael said she lifted the title from an Italian poster. For Kael, the phrase became a statement about film's basic allure. "This appeal is what attracts us, and ultimately what makes us despair when we begin to understand how seldom movies are more than this," she wrote.

Kael could also be writing about contemporary political candidates who are reduced to sound bites, talking points and a limited agenda with which they may not even agree. We may find them attractive and compelling, but, in the end, like so many blockbuster movies, they're almost always are forgettable.

Are these people who must demand of us our time and money really candidates at all but just suits and names and faces that are wrapped around whosever special interests? One needs to return to Theodore H. White's "The Making of the President, 1960," that ground-breaking, Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the Kennedy-Nixon contest, that discusses the effect of the television debate. One political advisor toward the end of the book laments that sensible politics in the U.S. is finished; for his own safety and those of his children, he's moving to France. And that was in 1960, pre-24/7 cable television and even bloviating pundits interviewing each other that is the miserable condition of what passes for news today. Look away Ed Murrow, look away.

Boling is philosophic. "It’s not Obama to blame, or his people, but this society and culture that participate in tabloid culture, and a political culture that isn’t far from tabloid culture. Which is the subject of my art, anyway."

Team Obama perhaps could see the several layers of humor in "Honest Abe;" based upon the appropriation of the image, its content and the words themselves. But they didn't want their man running the risk of getting a shaky cell phone cam image of the guest of honor standing next to it, even as a joke. This is not a time when ambiguity, nuance or anything that might cause three seconds of reflection is allowable, not even in something as important as a bid for the President of the United States.

Boling has followed Obama's career since his run for the Senate in Illinois and thinks he's a good candidate. What frustrates him — and it's a good guess Boling isn't the only one — is, "The idea of a collision of politics and culture that creates this overly cautious environment that is damaging to the right of free expression."

He's concerned about the puritanical element of the culture that makes some forms of critiquing it difficult, if not impossible. This serves as a reminder that despite the fake news shows and sketch comedy and satiric Web sites that it seems that the people who most like to laugh are the dead ones recorded on the sound tracks of TV Land reruns.

"People take themselves too seriously," Boling says. "People who play the politics of it, that threat ends up hurting free speech and the arts, We’re supposed to be all about free speech then we jump on whovever exercises it, or those who are associated with those who exercise it. Was it Ashcroft who had the statue of Justice covered? That far-right, holier-than-thou knee-jerk reaction is a threat to our culture overall." Cultural and political powerbrokers, in order to advance their agendas, must walk a narrow path that's been laid for them that they don't agree with but aren't able to change. It's a bit like that old game "Operation," when you tried to remove the funny bone, and the buzzer sounded and the grimacing patient's nose lit up. There's not much margin for error. If you don't believe it, ask Howard Dean.

Boling explains that through Plant Zero management he was asked to speak with Obama representatives. "They were apologetic about the situation, and they wanted to be clear," Boling says, "that censorship isn’t what they are about. It’s centered on the perception and reaction that might come out of it."

He replaced "Honest Abe" and draped "Snake Charmer." Of course, now everyone will want to know what's under there, and that makes art out of it all, after all.

Boling was invited to the gathering and he's going because he thinks it'll be interesting. But this un-incident shows us something a little sad about what is out of kilter about the dog and pony show that passes for U.S. electoral politics in 2007. —Harry Kollatz Jr.

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You Be the Judge

Mayor L. Douglas Wilder and City Council traded volleys this afternoon over tax relief for the elderly and disabled.

In his press release, received at our magazine shortly after 5 p.m., the mayor suggests that Council is short-changing the city's elderly and disabled residents who need help with tax bills.

The mayor's unadorned release:

Mayor Urges Council to Seek ‘Common Ground’

Seeking to provide continued real estate tax relief for the elderly and disabled,
Mayor L. Douglas Wilder today called upon the City Council to work with him to provide sufficient funding for the program.

“The Council’s current plan for the expansion of the tax relief program, combined with ever-rising real estate assessments, is leading to a shortfall in providing the assistance so seriously needed by our senior and disabled citizens,” said the Mayor.

”I am calling upon Council to seek ‘common ground’ with the Administration to minimize the impact of a program shortfall, which will be explained in the City’s letter to homeowners to be mailed out later this month,” the Mayor said.

“I am hopeful that Council will act in that fashion.”

# # #

About an hour later, the Council's publicity officer issued two successive and relatively similar press releases on Councilwoman Kathy Graziano's behalf. Again, the raw statement:

Statements from Councilwoman Cathy [sic] Graziano regarding Tax Relief for the Elderly/Disabled

The City of Richmond has a real estate tax relief program in place that can really help the elderly and disabled on fixed incomes who have difficulty paying city real estate taxes.

The program applies to homeowners over the age of 65, or who are permanently disabled, and who have an income of less that $50,000 and assets of less than $200,000, and can provide 100 percent relief from taxes in some circumstances.

Last year council budgeted $1,980,000 for the program. Bluntly stated, that wasn’t enough. We were informed in January that the program was facing a shortfall of about $1,000,000. If that shortfall is not met, our poorest and least able homeowners will be facing property tax bills they were not expecting.

There is, by law, only one mechanism for closing the gap. In our system of government, only the mayor may propose an appropriations amendment during the course of the year. I have met with Mayor Wilder, his staff and Chief Financial Officer Harry Black, and to this point, they have either refused, or have not moved forward with such an amendment.

We have the money. There was more than $3,000,000 left over from the 2006 fiscal year which was not encumbered. We were told by the Administration that the ill-considered audits of the School Board and the Assessor’s Office would cost approximately $500,000. There was $290,000 committed for valet parking for bar and restaurant owners in Shockoe Slip.

Council is moving to close the loophole for next year, by adding almost $2,000,000 to the mayor’s proposed budget for tax relief. But for this year, homeowners will be receiving an unexpected tax bill later this summer, while we all wait for the mayor to act.

Contact: For more information, please call Cathy [sic] Graziano, 4th District Councilwoman, at 804.640.9594

# # #

—Jack Cooksey

Monday, May 07, 2007

Do Not Stand Idly By

Last night my husband and I were fortunate enough to hear Holocaust survivor/author/human-rights activist Elie Wiesel speak at the JCC Forum. It was a night that I won’t soon forget. I was overwhelmed by just being in the same room as him. All of the emotions I felt when reading Night came flooding back to me.

Wiesel didn’t speak specifically about his Holocaust experiences, but he did speak of tragedy — Iraq, Sudan, Rwanda, all tragedies spawned and fueled by indifference. Wiesel also reiterated something that many of us have probably forgotten. Since the Holocaust, our country made promises that such butchery would not happen again. But one only has to turn on the news or read a book like Dave Eggers’ What Is the What to realize that genocide continues to this day. Wiesel admitted it would be easy for him to get frustrated and give up, but he does not. “Do not stand idly by,” he said.

The 2007-08 JCC Forum schedule was also announced last night. Investigative reporter Bob Woodward, author Mitch Albom and American Idol’s Elliott Yamin are slated.

The 2007-08 Richmond Forum has also announced its schedule. Former Mexican President Vicente Fox and syndicated columnist David Brooks are on my wish list.

And speaking of Sudan, don’t miss A Call to Action: A Project of Richmond for Darfur on May 17 from 7 to 9 p.m. at The Camel (1621 W. Broad St.). The event will feature Coy Issacs, projects director of the nonprofit organization Wine to Water, who spent two years in Darfur helping with water and sanitation projects in the war-torn region. There’s a $3 suggested donation, but consider forgoing that morning’s latte and give even more. — Sarah K. McDonald

Friday, May 04, 2007

Virginia's Royal Moment

Thousands flocked into Virginia this week for an event filled with pageantry, tradition and excitement — many decked out in their finest to pay tribute to their idol. Yep, it's Race Week in Richmond. What did you think I meant?

Actually, about that other event ... You can be a total cynic about it (monarchies are dead, oppressive, blah, blah, blah), but still — the old girl gave a great speech (limp ending, but otherwise powerful and humble). First Lady Anne Holton wisely decided to forgo the hat (she looked lovely), and Sabrina Squire rocked a tan wide-brimmed hat with a giant silk bow.

But none of them could upstage the really Grande Dame of the day, Virginia herself. She looked simply radiant. (Of course, she has had some work done...)

A side note on the day: This blog pointed out a few days ago some etiquette tips for dealing with the queen. No. 2 was this: "Don’t talk with your hands — this includes the 'thumbs up' gesture, which evidently is considered obscene in many European countries." Now check out Gov. Kaine big as life on the front of the Times-Dispatch this morning. Looks as if he got so excited he spontaneously broke into the cool jerk.

And on to other topics ...

Chesterfield Town Center uses a clever little tagline in its positioning against the open-air Short Pump Town Center and Stony Point Fashion Park: "We've got you covered." Clever. However, they might consider tweaking it a bit. I happened to be there Wednesday evening during that big downpour and no less than four giant red tubs were positioned around the mall to catch the leaks from the vaulted skylight ceiling. How about "Slippery When Wet?"

R. Kelly has announced he's written "Rise Up," a song of healing for Virginia Tech. Yes, the man who gave us "Feelin' On Yo Booty" and "I Like the Crotch on You" will attempt to heal the commonwealth's and the nation's wounds with his supple lyricism. After all who can forget "Strutting past, switching that ass while I'm on the phone/Cutting up tomatoes, fruits and vegetables and potatoes/Girl, you look so sexy while you're doing the damn thang, I want sex in the kitchen over by the stove/Put you on the counter by the buttered rolls/Hands on the table, on your tippy toes/We'll be making love like the restaurant was closed." Powerful stuff.

-- Janet Giampietro

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Shopping Destiny

Yesterday as I was driving through Mechanicsville, I made a wrong turn onto what I later realized was Bell Creek Road. I was motoring along, looking for a place to turn around when I pulled in to Hanover Square North. I knew this was shopping destiny because I happened upon a new Marshalls and a new Rue 21.

The Marshalls at 7230 Bell Creek Road is the chain’s only “Shoe Megashop” in the Richmond area. If you’ve ever been to one of these shoe goldmines, you know this means a greatly expanded shoe department where the shoes are displayed by style instead of by size. There are also generally more high-end brands ripe for the picking. I spied two different, very tempting styles of Betsey Johnson platforms before I bolted from the department in hopes of saving myself from overspending. The store also has a classier layout with more heavy-duty, upscale shelving than some of the other stores around town.

Also located in the strip mall was Rue 21 , which just opened last Thursday. This is the Warrendale, Pa.-based chain’s first location in Richmond. My heart skipped a beat when I saw the sign because I fondly remembered the store from my discount-shopping days in my hometown of Pittsburgh. To my delight, the inventory was as I remembered it. The company follows and analyzes national fashion trends and then designs their own less expensive versions of what they deem to be in style. While the store is geared to a younger clientele, there are great finds to be had for all ages, especially in the accessories department. I saw lots of fun, chunky necklaces (priced at $7 and under) and wide belts ($10 and under) in every color of the rainbow. There was also a fun selection of handbags. I went home with a black and white dress that was accented with green flowers and a matching pair of green and natural-toned espadrilles, and I spent less than $40.

—Megan Marconyak