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On the Street Where We Live

Tight-knit Springhill in South Richmond reacts to new realities and hunkers down for uncertain days.

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Like most Virginians, I’m working from home. This means I’m staring out of windows and scanning my neighborhood frequently. Springhill is a small and sharply delineated pocket at the south end of the Lee Bridge. It is populated with late 19th- and early 20th-century houses, plus a number of attractive new homes. Springhill’s boundaries are Cowardin and Semmes avenues, West 22nd Street and Riverside Drive. It appears to have been “cut out from the surrounding area,” says Stuart Kindle, a versatile professional instrumentalist, who lives across the street from me in an arts and crafts style cottage.

Our households are on West 19th Street, a short, three-block stretch that is blocked to traffic at each end. Our 600 block, like the 500 and 700 blocks, doesn’t have city sidewalks. This means we stroll down the middle of the street at all hours, especially when walking dogs. With the passing intimacy comes unforced neighborliness. “People are real friendly but not in your business, as close as we live,” says Janice Carter-Lovejoy, a neighbor.

I was curious how Stuart, Janice and other neighbors were getting along since COVID-19 and a mass hunkering down, so I telephoned around. Not only was I was concerned, heartened and hopeful after speaking with them, I was impressed with the kindness, resourcefulness and spiritedness of folks trying to figure things out on the street that we share.

Stocking Up

In mid-March, Alex, Erin, Ethan and Stuart all had jobs. Then, things suddenly turned south for three of the four housemates who share a two-story house in the 600 block of West 19th Street.

“I was laid off from Fan Guitar and Ukulele while the shop’s owners sought a solution to keep the business afloat,” says Stuart Kindle, 27, a versatile jazz musician who performs at area venues. “It’s been very strange; all my gigs have been canceled. It’s a strange time to be a musician.”

His housemate Ethan Harr, 28, recently stopped driving for Uber as the pandemic intensified so he could more safely and regularly visit his father who lives in Martinsville and had pneumonia. “Then I got a job bartending at Cary Street Cafe, but only worked three days before it closed down.”

Alex Dahl, 29, a designer for a large local florist and garden center, has witnessed the evaporation of commissions for wedding decor and arrangements that had been scheduled for spring and early summer weddings. Not that couples aren’t necessarily tying the knot — some are eloping.

Of the four-person household, only Erin Coggins, 27, is still busy at her job. She works at a large grocery store in Short Pump. “I’m taking extra precautions,” she says of interaction with the public. “When I come home, I take off my clothes, toss them into the washer and take a shower.”

Harr says his household has been stocking up for weeks on nonperishable foods. And everybody is mostly staying in. When a friend’s aunt, whom they’d never met, stopped by to retrieve a skateboard that he’d left, Harr says his roomies jumped all over him: “Why’d you let her in the house?”

Kindle puts things in perspective: “I’m grateful that my family and roommates are all well.”


Corey Ambers, at left, and housemate, fellow golfer and business partner Gavin Parker have shifted their passions for golf from the links to cyberspace. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Corey Ambers, at left, and housemate, fellow golfer and business partner Gavin Parker have shifted their passions for golf from the links to cyberspace.

 

Virtual Golf

Corey Ambers makes his living with golf. The recent school closings didn’t affect him directly because, although he coaches at James River High in Chesterfield County, golf is a fall sport. But he’s also an instructor at the Salisbury Country Club golf academy and was ready to teach 7- to 17-year-olds in the club’s Junior Golf Academy, scheduled to start March 25, as well as coach women in the adult program, when the facility closed.

“Now, I’m working remotely and only leave the house to go to the Food Lion and to work out in the park,” says the 24-year-old Radford University graduate who majored in sports administration and marketing.

But he has shifted gears inventively. He and his housemate, Gavin Parker, 27, a Campbell University graduate with a degree in business administration and professional golf management, and a Salisbury golf pro, have developed a virtual game experience they’ve named Golflow. “We’d been working on it, fiddling around with it for six months until all this weirdness started,” Ambers says.

A kit with game pieces, not of their design, is delivered to families’ homes so children can play the game indoors or in their backyards.

“We’ve created some games that are ambitious,” Parker explains. “Results aren’t predicated on physical prowess or things like holding the club correctly. It’s not about a stick and a ball.”

Using Zoom, an online video and audio conferencing app, participants can tune in from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. “It’s designed uniquely for the child, educating the kids and giving them a chance to get out of their rooms.”

“It’s here to disrupt traditional golf,” Parker adds.



Kevin Koziol visits friends, from left, Maddie Grey, Lindsay Alls and Shannon Spicer, who share one of the oldest houses in Springhill. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Kevin Koziol visits friends, from left, Maddie Grey, Lindsay Alls and Shannon Spicer, who share one of the oldest houses in Springhill.

Volunteering and TV

Gov. Ralph Northam may have closed public schools for the semester, but Shannon Spicer, 26, who teaches English as a second language to kindergarteners through second-graders at Greene Elementary in South Richmond, has shifted to volunteer mode. She is now delivering meals to students’ families that haven’t picked them up at designated distribution points.

“I’m also trying to get the children some kinds of English and Spanish picture books and other resources, over the next few weeks to keep them connected and engaged,” she says.

Spicer and her housemates, Lindsay Alls, 27, a real estate property manager, and Maddie Grey, 27, a social services caseworker, are from the Roanoke area. They have lived together for four years. Alls says the three friends have adapted well to working mostly from home.

“We know each other’s boundaries and each of us has little spaces that we respect,” says Grey, noting that, as for her makeshift situation, “my home office is in my bedroom and I work in pajamas until I go crazy and go downstairs to the living room and kitchen.”

The household also regularly watches reality TV together. “‘Love Is Blind’ on Netflix is our favorite,” Grey says. “Oh my God, it has it all. Its premise is whether or not you can fall in love without meeting the other person. We recommend it.”


 

Jessica and Jason Hendricks and their teenage sons, Aiden, at front, and Garrett, are adapting to home offices and completing their high school semesters, respectively. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Jessica and Jason Hendricks and their teenage sons, Aiden, at front, and Garrett, are adapting to home offices and completing their high school semesters, respectively.

High School at Home

“The state can forgive the date, but the students still need to know the material,” says Jessica Hendricks, 43, the mother of two teenage sons. She responds when asked how she and her husband, Jason Hendricks, 43, are adapting to suddenly having the athletic boys under roof weekdays since in-school classes and programs were canceled for the school year. Garrett, 17, is a junior at Maggie Walker Governor’s School for Government & International Studies. Aiden, 15, is a sophomore at Appomattox Regional Governor’s School for the Arts and Technology.

“There’s a lot of homework and some online homework,” Jessica says, “but as it goes along we’re getting more organized.”

However, some of her sons’ classmates are at a disadvantage, she says, since the two regional specialty high schools serve rural, outlying counties that don’t offer reliable internet service. “The boys have also been skateboarding around the neighborhood, and Garrett likes to long board on the Capital Trail, but we need to get out on a soccer field and start kicking the ball.”

Jessica, a professional photographer, and Jason, an architect at HKS, have recently set up a joint home office in the living room of their two-story, shingle-clad house. They’ve had Verizon enhance internet service and say they are still adjusting to close quarters.

“We have to juggle respective conference calls,” says Jason whose architectural design focuses on sports and entertainment complexes. “For me, it’s feeling trapped. I’ve always kept a distance between home and work and now all my work is done at home.”

But he’s found silver linings: “There was a recent virtual company happy hour. We had our beers out at our [home] desks. It was a little strange, but it worked.”


 

Richmond native and retiree Larry Lambert regularly surveys West 19th Street and the downtown skyline from the grounds of his home at Stonewall Place. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Richmond native and retiree Larry Lambert regularly surveys West 19th Street and the downtown skyline from the grounds of his home at Stonewall Place.

Watching Out for People

Larry Lambert, 65, a Church Hill native who attended Armstrong High School, is a retired truck driver. “I drove tractor-trailers, and oil and lumber trucks,” he says.

No longer behind the wheel, for the past nine years, weather permitting, Lambert has spent part of each day keeping a sharp eye on the comings and goings on around the 600 and 700 blocks of West 19th Street. His command post is a conversational grouping of a wooden picnic table, some stray, straight-back chairs and comfortable lawn chairs. They’ve been pulled together near a magnolia tree on the grounds of Stonewall Place, the senior apartment building where he lives. Alone on March 22 when we chatted, most days his klatch includes half a dozen fellow residents.

“They are very protective around here. The manager recently sent us a memo saying they’d prefer that you didn’t have any company,” he explains. “But the kids want to check in on their folks. You can’t keep people away from people.”

“So it’s gotten a lot quieter here. But the way I look at it is that this is our family away from our family,” he says, gesturing to the six-story brick building. “I try to help out as best I can by helping people move furniture, taking their trash out and stuff like that.”

“Of course there’s always some kind of drama going around, and we don’t know what going on with the pandemic, but everybody appears to be pretty calm.”

He adds: “We’ve all just got to be precautious.”


 

Greg and Sherri Johnson in front of the distinctive house they have restored in the 500 block of West 19th Street. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Greg and Sherri Johnson in front of the distinctive house they have restored in the 500 block of West 19th Street.

An Unexpected Closing

Greg Johnson and Sherri Johnson, both 56, are among Springhill’s longest residents. When they were in their 20s, they purchased their picturesque frame house that has a wrap-around front porch and Addams Family-like turret. She is a researcher for the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice. He is a chef who, with his wife, co-owned Citizen, a successful restaurant he’d operated in two consecutive spots in the East Main Street financial district since 2011. It closed to the public for good March 18.

“It was a great run, but it didn’t end the way we’d planned to end it,” Sherri says. “It was a perfect, awful storm.”

A purchaser had been found and both parties were expecting a seamless transition when the economics of the pandemic brought the arrangement to a halt.

“Right now you can barely plan anything,” Sherri says philosophically.

Now that she is working from home, she finds her laptop screen “way too small” and is converting the 22-inch living room television into a monitor.

“I have to remember to take breaks from sitting in a chair that wasn’t designed for office use. And every now and then the cat comes downstairs to visit.”

That would be 1-year-old Tang. Yes, it’s yellow.


 

Steve and Janice Carter-Lovejoy recently welcomed their son, Jake, from Chicago. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Steve and Janice Carter-Lovejoy recently welcomed their son, Jake, from Chicago.

Full Nesters

The Carter-Lovejoys are empty nesters trending toward retirement. Janice, 64, is a Realtor, Steve, 66, is a retired librarian and conservation biologist who is active with the Sierra Club. The couple’s two children live out of town.
On March 18 they returned from a vacation with her family in Puerto Rico and were looking forward to a summer trip to Umbria, in Italy. That’s now off. But on Saturday night, March 21, Janice was back at Richmond International Airport.

While parked at the airport curb, Janice was startled when a masked man wearing shades and a blue baseball cap, knocked on her Nissan Leaf window. Suddenly, however, she realized it was son, Jake, 33, whom she’d come to pick up. He’d flown in from Chicago to encamp with his parents until the pandemic lifted.

“I tried to cover my face and mouth during the entire trip,” he says, “I brought sanitary wipes, and when the security agent asked for my ID, I asked: ‘Have you changed your gloves?’ He changed them.” He also asked the bag handler to slip on clean gloves.

“Chicago is a week or two ahead of Richmond in terms of precautions,” Jake says.

He didn’t go out on St. Patrick’s Day and although he entertained a few guests in his small apartment in downtown Chicago, he felt especially constrained when his gym shut down and yearned for warmer weather. “I’m fortunate. I work for a large advertising agency, so I can work from home here,” he says.

Empty nesters no more, the Carter-Lovejoys’ upstairs rear bedroom is now Jake’s temporary office.

Steve Carter-Lovejoy says it’s ironic that he and Janice moved from suburban Bon Air four years ago and built a house in Springhill to be close to museums, theaters and restaurants. With those amenities off-limits, the avid cyclist says that he’s now peddling additional miles on the Capital Trail.


 

Contractor Todd Matthew takes advantage of a day off to work on a personal house restoration on West 19th Street. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Contractor Todd Matthew takes advantage of a day off to work on a personal house restoration on West 19th Street.

Home Projects

Todd Matthew, is a project manager for All-N-1 Services Inc., a residential general contracting company. He takes advantage of a recent Sunday afternoon to work on a century-old arts and crafts cottage style house in the 500 block of West 19th that he and his sister acquired as an investment two years ago.

“It’s full steam ahead,” he says. “I’m trying to work as much as possible since there are times that I can’t get to it.”

Since the pandemic, he says his company has been working mostly on outdoor construction jobs. He uses sanitizers regularly, especially since he visits Lowe’s and Home Depot stores about once a day.

At home, Matthew and his wife, a pharmacist, are expecting their second child.



Kent Romska, a broadcasting company account executive, now jogs since working mostly from home. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Kent Romska, a broadcasting company account executive, now jogs since working mostly from home.

Planting a Garden

“Since I started working from home on March 16, I miss my office,” says Kent Romska, 49, an account executive who has worked for 16 years with Entercom Media Corp., radio broadcasters. “So much of we do is verbal and collaborative, but I can get most of it done remotely. Things are slower, but I’m staying focused.”

“People are freaked out,” says Romska of the universal uncertainty. “But this is all about staying mentally healthy. Do something. If you do nothing, then nothing changes.”

Until recently, a regular at his gym, he says he ran for the first time in two or three years: “I embraced it. It was the best run of my life.”

Romska has one of the greenest thumbs on West 19th Street. He says: “Thinking the operation might close for good, I just made a run to a greenhouse and bought some of the late-winter plants it still had in stock — collards, kale, spinach and chard.”



Loftan Miller Hooker and her husband, Randy, with daughters Olive and Virginia, are expecting a third daughter this summer. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Loftan Miller Hooker and her husband, Randy, with daughters Olive and Virginia, are expecting a third daughter this summer.

Wedding Bells

Loftan and Randy Hooker had planned to be married March 21 in the garden of the Edgar Allan Poe Museum. It was to have been an intimate gathering of 25. But the list began to shrink as flights were canceled and public officials decreed that gatherings were limited to 10 people. They were also concerned that the Poe museum would shutter.

“The director called me up personally and said: ‘We all need happiness, we’re going to open up for you,’” says Loftan, 37, a librarian at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College. “The florist still came through and the photographer came down from Washington, D.C.”

The bride’s two daughters, Virginia, 9 (known as Vivi), and Olive, 6, were honor attendants. Ken Goodrich, a retired minister, officiated.

The wedding party then repaired to Citizen, a restaurant a few blocks away for a three-course dinner. Although the eatery had closed permanently three days before, because of the pandemic, the party went on as planned. The restaurant’s owners, Greg and Sherri Johnson, live just a few doors from the newlyweds.

Says Randy Hooker, the groom who is a commercial insurance underwriter, “They said, ‘Look, this is going to be our last hurrah, even if it’s only 10 people.”

“There is such a sense of community on our street,” says the bride. “Every vendor, if they were able, saved our wedding. In spite of what’s happening in the world, we were able to have a successful wedding. My mother said: ‘It was concentrated love, even though it was 10 people.’”

“I was a 45-year-old bachelor and now I suddenly I’m living with three females with another on the way,” Randy says.

He and his wife are expecting a girl this summer.

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