As you all have probably seen by now, TIME Magazine and the Urban Land Institute listed the Norfolk/VB metro as number one, statistically, for growth in Millennial populations.
As someone who has worked for the last 9 years on turning NFK brain drain into brain grain, this is extremely gratifying. It’s been an inspired coalition of doers, dreamers, activists and entrepreneurs that made this happen. In the interest of sharing some love with just a few of those people that deserve pats on the back for helping turn this tide, here are 25 NFK/VB leaders that have made a difference. I encourage you to follow their businesses and pages (use the links!), and to thank them when you see them.
In no particular order.
1. Penny and Kevin O’Connor planting the flag with O’Connor Brewing Co. completely changed the self-identity of Norfolk. As OBC has grown, so has Norfolk pride grown.
2. Tommy Smigiel — and now Andria Padgett McClellan, Martin Thomas Jr., and Norfolk Mayor Kenneth Cooper Alexander — for being young, approachable, passionate, social media-savvy local elected officials. They have sent the message that this city is not just for the old guard, but is for the younger folk, too.
3. People like Benjamin Briggs, Andrew Briggs, and Tyler Warnalis with TBA Productions, Jacki Paolella from TAPTAP, Bradford Davis, Ronnie Talman, Josh Coplon with LAVA Presents, and everyone else who have been keeping the local music scene alive, because no young people, ever, want to stay in a place where they can’t catch a good show with local bands. Also credit to Jesi Owens for pushing for the legalization of street performance with SPIN, and Skye Zentz and Daniel Neale for being a longtime champions of busking, which adds audio electricity to the streets.
Of course, continued credit goes to Bill Reid, Rick Mersel, and Alison Burdick at The NorVA, which remains one of the best venues of its size in all of America.
4. Hampton Roads Pride coming to Town Point Park announced that Norfolk is the kind of inclusive community that young people — and we all — want to call home. James Hermansen-Parker, Cindy Cutler, and Patrick Mullins were the main people breaking through that wall and making that first festival happen, with Michael Berlucchi and many others carrying the torch today. Special appreciation to Robert Roman and Claus Ihlemann from Decorum Furniture for all their vital support of local LGBT causes.
5. Wes Cheney, Liz Schleeper, Markus Wegener, BC Wilson (from Norfolk Growler Company), Michael Shipp from East Coast Bikes and others who started Bike Norfolk… which led to the city starting their Bike/Trails Commission… which all led to the increased cycling infrastructure that’s just going to get better and better.
An enthusiastic bike horn squeeze also to Andrew Hund from Hund’s Recycle Factory for enthusiastically continuing to spread the good word about cycling in NFK, and getting more and more locals smiling on two wheels.
6. Hannah Serrano for starting AltDaily.com, which has, in many ways, essentially been a Norfolk/VB hype machine (with a special, wholehearted shout out to every one of the hundreds of people who have contributed to this publication over the years)…. for starting the Naro Cinema Neo-Classic Movie Nights, which are still popping under the Naro’s internal team…. The NEON District….. Art | Everywhere…. (and on and on)…
On the topic of giving creativity — particularly writing — an outlet and community, Michael Khandelwal and The Muse Writers Center, and Jeff Maisey with VEER (which has gamely fill the gap left by Port Folio Weekly), also deserve hat tips.
8. Malia Paasch from The Birch, Porter Hardy from Smartmouth Beer, Dan Neumann, the team at Otzi Tattoo Agency and everyone else who made Chelsea into a fun, unique Norfolk neighborhood. (A city is only as vibrant as its neighborhoods are special.)
9. Charles Rasputin and Careyann Weinberg from Alchemy Underground have brought a sense of street level cool to the masses. Charlie and Careyann are a magnet for people doing interesting things. That they stay here, continue to evolve here, and continue to produce here is a lighthouse for Millennial and future generations.
10. Vicki Bahr from Kitsch, Michelle Odom from Crafted Indie Arts and Craft Market, and everyone else in the local craft/art world. Their genuineness, attention to detail, and openness to others has been a positive energy that spreads beyond their ranks.
11. The creative spaces have made such a difference. Clint Dalton led the charge downtown, with Beau Turner and the 757 Makerspace showing incredible leadership in this area of our community. Jameson Dungan always seems to be in those rooms, too, encouraging everyone to create, and to find a home here.
12. Sarah Parker and Chuck Rigney from Norfolk Economic Development, who spearheaded the Norfology campaign, which sparked a lot of local pride in Norfolk-born businesses, and got more young people thinking about Norfolk as the place where they should start their business. They continue to be champions of business vibrancy in NFK.
13. Bradford McMurran, Ed Cardigan, Alba Woolard, and Sean Devereux from the Push Comedy Theater are the lowkey MVPs of the independent theater and creative world. To have an improv school/theater of that high quality is another example of this city swinging well above its weight.
14. Kevin Curry, Stanley Zheng, Blaine Price and others from Code for Hampton Roads. Cities of the future will be smart cities, and these are the people helping to inform our municipalities on how to be more intelligent with its data.
15. Kelsie McNair from With Lavender & Lace and now For All Handkind. WL&L made this city feel hip and alive like nowhere else. She also helped spread the conversation about Legalize Dancing in Norfolk, which, I believe, played a small but important role in changing how the city approaches bars/clubs/and other things fun.
16. Patti Wray, Jeff Hewitt, Malcolm Powell and others associated with The Venue on 35th. A city with a growing youth/art culture needs off-the-beaten-(white)-path performance stages like this; respect to current leaders at The Venue, James Cooper and Jorge Mendez, for picking up the torch and carrying it forward. Philip Joseph deserves credit for what he tried at Keroac Cafe, which helped turn a lot of people onto Park Place.
17. The Chrysler Museum Glass Studio — and its founding leader, Charlotte Potter — has done so much to legitimize Norfolk as a place to grow, and thrive, as working artists. Cheryl White has played a key role in this regard, too, at Glass Wheel Studio.
18. David Hausmann and John Porter deserve an gigantic amount of credit for making Norfolk a hip, enticing place for young people to stay/live/move to, with Field Guide, Handsome Biscuit, and Toast, which keeps getting better and better as they refine the concept.
Appreciation, credit, and respect as well to so many other restaurant entrepreneurs that have stepped up with unique, scene-defining concepts the past few years, including the teams at LeGrand, Luna Maya, Nouvelle Restaurant, Public House (which filled the ‘big loud fun room’ gap in the Ghent market), Green House Kitchen, Chartreuse Bistro, Chow, The Bakehouse at Chelsea, Commune NFK, and many more.
19. The Virginian-Pilot, and the whole staff there, continues to be an under-appreciated source of local engagement and pride. Millennials — and all of us — simply would not know about many of the reasons to love it here without the VP.
20. Rachel McCall and Mary Miller from the Downtown Norfolk Council, who have done such a great job championing First Fridays Downtown Street Party, the NEON Festival, and who have facilitated so many dozens of other small things that have added up to a unrecognizable DT from 9 years ago.
21. The yoga studios have made Norfolk so much more inviting for young people — and people young of heart of all ages. Kim Austin-Peterman from The Space Above Yoga Center, Breathe Yoga Center, My Yoga Spirit, The Yax Family at Hot House Yoga, Jessica Johnson from Bhav Brigade Hampton Roads… and on…
22. Drew Ungvarsky goes without saying. Him buying that building on Granby and making it the headquarters of Grow shifted the wind downtown. He was also one of the main people, along with Evan Harrell, who got food trucks legalized, which made our DT streets so much tastier and inviting. Also credit to Drew — along with Lucas Doan, Kevin Murphy, Jarrett Beeler, Thom White, Mel Price, Grant Cothran, and a host of others — for Re:Vision Norfolk, which was a driving force of The Plot, among other great things.
23. Buddy Gadams of Marathon Development for the hundreds and hundreds of residential units he has created Downtown.
24. The coffee shops, with Cafe Stella (Stella and Mariusz Pomianek), aLatte Cafe (Melissa and Neil Sanders) Cure Coffeehouse and Brasserie (Mike Aston, Christopher Shelton, Kari Redman), and Fair Grounds, in particular, have been major in building a sense of community, and home, for so many of us.
And many, many more. Let’s continue to support these folks, and people like them, to keep this momentum going.
What a fun decade it has been to call Norfolk home, eh?