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Sa'ad El-Amin to provide security for Shockoe Bottom club … Richmond's WWII memorial … Winery puts down roots close to Richmond … Animal talks stir questions

Street Talk

Club Gets Sa'ad's ScrutinyWall Speaks to Veterans, AllNow for the GrapesAnimal Talks Stir Questions

Club Gets Sa'ad's Scrutiny

After club owner Ted Kastanos discovered that his Shockoe Bottom business, Fahrenheit, could be shut down because of alleged drug activity there, he turned to City Councilman Sa'ad El-Amin for help.

Kastanos has claimed to have some of the best — and costliest — security around. Yet it wasn't enough to keep Fahrenheit free from scrutiny by law enforcement officers who suspected the club was a hangout for drug users. In February, as a result of an undercover drug operation called Operation Ex-Clubs, a handful of the club-goers were arrested for possession and distribution of cocaine and ecstasy. But now, anybody mindless enough to try to score drugs or snag a beer under age at Fahrenheit has to get past more than ID checkers and security cameras. Every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday night club-goers are on the councilman's watch. El-Amin, whose 6th District encompasses Shockoe Bottom, has been hired by Kastanos as a special security consultant.

In a city that usually notes the councilman's every move and remark, word of El-Amin's presence at Fahrenheit apparently has gone unnoticed.

"What I have attempted to do is to develop a heightened sensitivity to security. I'm working with the staff to teach them that they're not simply bouncers but public relations persons ferreting out any drug activity or suspicious behavior."

If anyone is caught, he insists, they will be prosecuted.

Fahrenheit was implicated as a drug haven in the five-month sting. Two weeks ago the club faced charges in a formal administrative hearing before the Virginia Department of Alcoholic and Beverage Control. One of the charges was dropped because there was not enough evidence to support it. The other claims the club has become a meeting place for using and selling drugs.

A ruling on whether the ABC will take action against the club's liquor license is expected soon. At least until then, El-Amin is on duty.

El-Amin's sentinel position, he says, is the perfect opportunity for him to see firsthand what's going on in his district and to "carry the banner for the Bottom."

"The Bottom is our premiere good-time place," says El-Amin. "It's imperative that, if this convention center is to succeed, late businesses be viable, vibrant, attractive and available to people who visit."

Brandon Walters

Wall Speaks to Veterans, All

It is a clear sunny day, as vibrant as stained glass.

But it's not Memorial Day.

If it were, it might be like last year when nobody showed up — save the dozen or so men in uniform. This year, they have gathered on this day, instead.

The May 23 service to honor Memorial Day ends, and a respectful crowd of 30 men and women file out from the brilliantly colorful chapel at Bon Secours Memorial Regional Medical Center in Mechanicsville. They follow the footsteps of those before them carrying the flag, looking soulful and serious. Before them, four sleek granite and marble sections of wall seem to stand at attention.

Few people seem to know about Richmond's own memorial commemorating 984 area service men and women who died in World War II. Maybe some didn't think the engraved wall was saved when the former Richmond Memorial Hospital closed in 1998.

The hospital on Westwood Avenue in North Side was built to honor World War II veterans. It opened in 1957.

Rising like a monolith high above split stairways, the memorial wall was the focal point of the hospital atrium.

As a result of the move more than two years ago to the new health care facility in Hanover, the wall today has a far different look and feel. It was split into four segments, and those are aligned on the greenest grass to face two new memorials. The two subtle monuments were donated by local veterans and are tributes to those who served in the Korean War and Vietnam.

But it's the wall that commands the most attention.

"This wall means so much to people in the Richmond area," says World War II veteran J. T. Ward, chairman of the board of supervisors for Hanover County.

When word got out that Richmond Memorial was closing, he says, "we all just said that wall has got to go with us."

But there was never a chance the wall wouldn't make the move, says Michael Robinson, vice president and administrator for Memorial Regional Medical Center. Honoring service men and women who have fought for their country is why Memorial is so important to its name. "It's something we don't take lightly," says Robinson. "As painful as it is to remember, the memorial is part of the healing process and that's how this translates for us as a hospital."

It translates to Ward and his fellow veterans as a reminder that it's unwise to forget about wars. "You lose a lot of friends," says Ward. "It's why I come out here quite often."


Now for the Grapes

Richmond turns out plenty of homemade beer: Legend, Richbrau, Main Street, etc. But when's the last time you sipped some Hanover Red?

Move over wheat and barley. The owner of a local landscaping company thinks it's time for grapes to have their day in the sun.

This week, Ray Lazarchic opens James River Cellars, the only winery in the Richmond area, according to the Virginia Wineries Guide. It's an idea Lazarchic has researched for years. Now, the test: He has 10,200 bottles filled, corked and ready to sell.

"Time will tell," Lazarchic says.

The winery, located in Glen Allen, is about a mile-and-a-half north of Virginia Center Commons on Route 1. It grew, in a way, out of boredom.

Lazarchic, a native of Ohio, moved to Richmond 20 years ago in a job with Figgie International Inc. When the company moved away, he stayed here, and 12 years ago opened a commercial lawn-maintenance company, James River Grounds Management.

The company prospered. It partnered with James River Nursery, opened offices in Virginia Beach and Charlottesville, and last year pulled in $5 million in revenue.

But a few years ago, Lazarchic says, he realized something was missing. "I needed something else to sort of get into as a hobby," he says.

He'd always liked growing things, he says — why not grapes? And his mother-in-law had already gotten him into winemaking years earlier. He plunged ahead, taking a part-time job at Lake Anna Winery and researching other vineyards. Three years ago, he started his own crop of grapes on the 10 acres of land where his company was located, near the Family Golf Center just north of Richmond.

"We drank most of the first crop," he says, half-joking. There was hard work, too. Lazarchic credits former landscaping employees, Ann Kiernan, who organized his legal matters, and James Batterson, who ran production. Brad McCarthy, a winemaker at White Hall Vineyard in Charlottesville, served as a consultant.

Last May, Lazarchic received the federal permits he needed — and the approval of Virginia's ABC. With the approvals, the wine press, the necessary 500-gallon, stainless-steel containers with cooling jackets and the labels, he bottled his first wine for selling about a month ago.

Now he's ready for business, he says. And, oh yeah, a party.

On Saturday, Lazarchic plans to hold a pig roast from noon to 4 p.m. to celebrate the opening of the winery. Tickets for the event, which features the Harry Wilson Jazz Quintet and wine tasting, are on sale for $20. Call 550-7516.

Jason Roop

Animal Talks Stir Questions

A meeting scheduled at City Hall for June 7 among certain area humane groups and city officials is causing some insiders to wonder just what's going on.

The city's public information office reports to Style that the meeting "is being hosted by the city at the request of SPCA to discuss a draft MOA (memorandum of agreement) designed to further the SPCA goal of eradicating the euthanizing of healthy animals by accepting healthy dogs and cats transferred from the city's animal shelter."

It's a mouthful, but it sounds like a sure step in the right direction.

But there's more. No one seems to know who called the meeting.

Denise Deisler, associate executive director for the SPCA explains, "as I understand it the meeting is not at our request." Instead, she says, she thought the meeting was scheduled by the city's animal shelter because it had some questions that the SPCA might be able to answer. And if you think the SPCA rubbing elbows with the city is a new thing, it's not, says Deisler. The human association's mission statement makes it clear that the nonprofit SPCA has never been in a partnership with the city and that it receives no government money. But SPCA began talking with city officials years ago about how to thwart euthanizing. And Deisler acknowledges that the SPCA would like to work more cooperatively in the future with the city and other groups, too.

Sounds like a sure step in the right direction.

But wait.

Some animal rights advocates claim the SPCA has "changed its mission, philosophy and way of doing things," says one city employee who asks to remain unnamed. Critics argue that smaller shelters do much more to save animal lives with a pittance of money than the SPCA will do with its $10 million Campaign for a Compassionate Solution.

And with its growing coffers come concerns that the SPCA will become too powerful.

It's why some like Jeanne Bridgforth, president of the all-volunteer nonprofit Save Our Shelters, have made sure SOS and other humane groups are included in the talk.

Bridgforth claims the SPCA set up the meeting to draft a resolution that City Council will vote on regarding some partnership between the city and the SPCA.

But the SPCA's Diesler maintains that any document discussed at the meeting is only a "philosophical agreement" to stop euthanizing healthy pets — and nothing more.

Thomas Chapman, director of the city's animal shelter, says the meeting is merely an opportunity to "bring all parties to the table that have an interest in the shelter," he says. "There are certainly no secrets."


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