Right off the bat, Suzanne Paige gives the impression she's someone who can go anywhere, anytime and meet anyone on a moment's notice without a blink. Her energy is palpable, inescapable even. She appears to have the kind of confidence that comes not only from being tall, thin and exceptionally pretty, but also from being smart. You can hear it in her voice, peppered with a New Jersey accent: “I can't sit idle and just watch when I know something could be done better,” Paige says. The Super Bowl, the World Series, the X Games and too many top-tier concerts to count are no exception — she's had a hand in them all.
Today, Paige has the daunting task of running downtown Richmond's A¬berhip venue: The National, the 80-year-old, recently renovated gem of a theater at Seventh and Broad streets. On any given concert night, Paige oversees seven bars and the adjacent Gibson's Grill, a staff of at least 40, as many as 1,500 guests and more than 50,000 square feet of hauntingly historic space. Watching her work, you can't help but think that The National's success depends on Paige's experience and connections.
A graduate of Seton Hall University, she's held plum marketing posts with television networks ABC, NBC and ESPN. Then she got what she calls “the bug” of the music biz, and parlayed her love of event planning to concerts, first with ESPN and eventually as a sales and marketing executive with the Manhattan Center's Hammerstein Ballroom.
Yet for all the fanfare and celebrity exposure, Paige yearned for the chance to make a different kind of mark, to be part of diamond-in-the-rough project from the ground up, the kind of project that leaves a legacy. She credits promoter Bill Reid, who co-owns The National and helped develop it, with enticing her to come to Richmond.
On the Saturday following New Year's Eve Paige meets with a reporter. She'd rung in 2009 in a way many would envy: hanging out with a passel of friends in Manhattan clubs and talking until dawn. Like old times, she says. But today is something else. It marks exactly one year since Paige packed up her belongings and headed south. Three hundred and sixty-five days later she has no regrets, she assures.
Even though she's in charge of all marketing, promotion, and food and beverage operations for the venue, Paige appears to get special satisfaction from the environment she's helped create. From the deeply rich, earth-colored walls to the dramatic, modern light pendants to the cobalt-blue tile planned for a listless bathroom, Paige's touch is everywhere. Most intriguing are the photographs. Famed rock-star photographer Danny Clinch took them. Paige met Clinch at a Bonnaroo festival years ago. The two are close friends.
Paige must have known what was missing from the walls, from The National itself. In one photo, Bob Dylan reclines in a chair reading the classifieds in a Spanish newspaper. In another, the Beastie Boys appear facing off as if part of a rugby scrum. Then there's one of a construction worker who, upon closer look, serves as an arrow to David Byrne, hiding in a trash can. Beck. Tom Waits. Wilco. Willie Nelson. Bruce Springsteen. They're all here, hand-picked by Paige.
During a sound check before a Dave Matthews concert some years ago, nobody could find Matthews, she recalls. Turns out he was drinking a few beers with the venue's kitchen staff. The thought pleases Paige. Like the Clinch photographs and the story of Matthews, Paige's place in Richmond is a moment in time, something to be captured in the present. While her mark on The National is clear, her claim to fame is elusive. “Anonymity is invaluable,” she says.