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OPINION: Richmond’s food and beverage establishments put us on the map; now’s our time to have their backs

On a good day, restaurants and breweries operate on razor-thin margins and depend on a constant stream of foot traffic into their establishments to keep the lights on. Their staff are largely reliant on tips and often have little in the way of a safety net or benefits. Now, most of these businesses have gone dark. Maybe for a week. Maybe for months. We don’t know yet. What we do know is that this is going to be absolutely devastating for the service industry. What can we do to help?

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The past 11 years have been a historic run for the economy. The booming market has created prosperity and given birth to many opportunities. It’s transformed our city’s skyline as new buildings pop up all over town. And it’s enabled entrepreneurs to take risks and create a robust dining and drinking scene locally that has quite literally put Richmond on the map. Over the past decade, RVA went from being known for being the capital of the Confederacy, if it was known outside of our region at all, to racking up accolades from some of the nation’s – and world’s – most renowned publications as a place to visit, see, and be seen.

Inventive chefs have pushed boundaries, tried new concepts that a decade ago would have been unheard of, and introduced diners to new cuisines and tastes. Brewers took a chance on empty warehouses in neighborhoods like Scott’s Addition and collectively built Richmond into one of the nation’s most robust beer scenes, period. It’s no exaggeration to say that Richmond as we know it has been completely transformed by our food and beverage purveyors. We owe a lot to each of them. And today – and in the coming months – they’re going to need us unlike ever before.

On a good day, restaurants and breweries operate on razor-thin margins and depend on a constant stream of foot traffic into their establishments to keep the lights on. Their staff are largely reliant on tips and often have little in the way of a safety net or benefits. Now, most of these businesses have gone dark. Maybe for a week. Maybe for months. We don’t know yet. What we do know is that this is going to be absolutely devastating for the service industry. Jobs will be (and already have been) lost and folks will lose their livelihoods. One of your favorite spots (if not many) won’t reopen after this passes. Mark my words – Richmond’s dining scene will be reshaped and the entire landscape as we know it will shift. The impact and recovery time of the industry locally – and nationally – will be likened to a tornado having wiped out buildings in a hit-or-miss pattern.

The closure of these neighborhood standbys is an incredibly painful, unprecedented, but necessary reality as the United States collectively aims to slow the spread of COVID-19 and ensure the most vulnerable populations are protected from the potentially deadly effects of this disease. It’s easy for my generation to brush this off. And some of my friends have, in a very cavalier and obtuse manner. After all, we’re least likely to be affected by the spread of the Coronavirus. But, (and this may be hard for some of us Millenials to hear), it’s not about us. This is about protecting older loved ones in our lives who could contract this and not fare nearly as well as us. It’s about flattening the curve of new cases and preventing our healthcare system from being completely overwhelmed, like in Italy. I was out and about myself as recently as last weekend, but my stance on the seriousness of all of this – and our collective responsibility to one another – has changed entirely.

So, what’s one to do? How do we balance this need to practice social distancing with the need to support our friends and family in the service industry who will be so deeply hurt by this shutdown?

  • Establish contact: First and foremost, keep in contact with your loved ones in the service industry. Be quick to listen and slow to speak. This is a time of great anxiety and fear for a lot of people. Lend an ear. (This goes for our loved ones on the front lines in the healthcare industry right now, too).
  • Connect resources: Connect friends and family with resources like the Bartender Emergency Assistance Program, providing grants of up to $2,500 on an as-needed basis. Furthermore, if you’re financially in a position to do so, donate to the fund. Locally, the Holli Fund (named in honor of late local food writer Hollister Lindley) is also providing emergency financial assistance.
  • Make a purchase: Think of the restaurants and other local businesses you normally frequent and buy a gift card to enjoy their food, beverages, services, or products at a later date. Consider this a “micro-loan” to your favorite place that may make the difference between them making it through and never reopening. For a list of Richmond-area businesses from whom you can purchase an online gift card, go here.
  • Take it to go: A lot of Richmond-area establishments are offering curbside to-go service as well as delivery. Find an updated list of those you can order from today on RVAHub, here.

Stay healthy, be kind, and love one another. We’ll all get through this together – even if we’re separated while we do it.

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Trevor Dickerson is the co-founder and editor of RVAhub.com, lover of all things Richmond, and a master of karate and friendship for everyone.

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Department of Public Utilities encourages reopening businesses to flush water before use

As businesses prepare to reopen on Friday, the utility encourages the flushing of internal pipes before any water use resumes.

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The City of Richmond Department of Public Utilities (DPU) has been providing safe drinking water during the COVID-19 pandemic and it remains a priority. As businesses prepare to reopen on Friday, the utility encourages the flushing of internal pipes before any water use resumes.

With non-essential business being closed due to COVID-19 since March, water has been sitting in pipes. This water can lose the benefits of necessary disinfection, which could lead to bacteria growth and thus unsuitable for drinking, hand washing, or other uses. Additionally, turning on water after prolonged closures could disrupt plumbing materials and release contaminants into the water.

“To ensure fresh water is being used by newly reopening businesses, we strongly encourage them to flush the water in their systems. This is important to maintain the public health and safety of all residents and visitors,” says DPU Director Calvin D. Farr, Jr.

This process includes running water through all faucets, fountains, and other water treatment/enhancement systems with both hot and cold water for several minutes before using.

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Stoney: City to “cautiously move” into Phase 1 of reopening plan on Friday, May 29th

On Thursday, Mayor Stoney announced that the City of Richmond will cautiously move into Phase 1 of Forward Virginia, the state’s reopening plan. Masks will be required in all indoor spaces and restaurants will be asked to voluntarily connect patrons’ information for contact tracing purposes.

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On Thursday, Mayor Stoney announced that the City of Richmond will cautiously move into Phase 1 of Forward Virginia, the state’s reopening plan.

“When I look at the picture in totality, given the added tools at our disposal, the current trends in our local data and my faith in Richmonders to look out for one another, I believe that Richmond can cautiously move into Phase 1 on Friday, May 29,” said Mayor Stoney at Thursday’s press conference.

During the first delay that the City of Richmond requested, the Stoney administration and Richmond City Health District expanded testing efforts, implemented a contact tracing effort, ensured every COVID-19 positive Richmonder will be able to isolate safely and securely with supported isolation, and advocated for a statewide mask requirement.

The city initially requested a modified Phase 1 reopening that maintained restrictions on places of worship and personal care and grooming services, as mass gatherings and close personal contact for extended periods of time both significantly increase chance of community spread.

Because the governor denied the city’s modified plan for reopening, Richmond will move into Phase 1 of Forward Virginia, the state’s reopening plan, with strong recommendations reflecting the mayor’s proposed modifications. Local guidance and helpful links to state guidance are available here. The state has yet to provide guidance on what Phases 2 and 3 will include.

The mayor detailed a number of best practices for residents and business owners to ensure that the city moves into Phase 1 cautiously. The best practices emerged from conversations between the Stoney administration and members of the business community, faith leadership, and health professionals.

  1. All residents who are medically able to should wear a face-covering that covers the mouth and nose when in public spaces. The wearing of a face covering does not negate the need for 6-foot social distancing.
  2. Faith communities should continue to meet virtually if possible. If in-person meetings are absolutely necessary, the mayor strongly recommends faith groups meet outside while practicing strict social distancing and enforcing the face-covering requirement.
  3. Food and drink establishments that choose to offer outdoor service at half capacity are asked to request a name and contact information of patrons who dine in for contact tracing purposes. This practice is voluntary for both patrons and restaurants. However, collecting this small amount of information for each dine-in party will go far in assisting the Richmond City Health District in tracing and containing outbreaks. Guidance on this practice is available here.

The mayor made two requests of the state: to continue to assist the city in further expanding testing capacity and in providing adequate face-coverings and hand sanitizer throughout the capital city.

“Quite frankly, we’re going to need more support from the state for our residents and our businesses to reopen safely and sustainably,” the mayor noted in his appeal. “I make these recommendations and requests of the state because, as has been my mantra this entire pandemic. Reopening should be slow and steady.”

“When public health is on the line, blindly pushing forward is not an option. Decisions must be thoughtful, and they must be based in our collective knowledge of and love for our city.”

See more reopening guidance for local businesses here: www.rvastrong.org/reopeningguidance.

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Health Innovation Consortium, Lighthouse Labs partner on health-focused startup accelerator

Richmond-based Lighthouse Labs, a nationally-recognized, top 25 seed-stage accelerator, will partner with the Health Innovation Consortium (HIC), a collaborative alliance working to make the Commonwealth of Virginia a hub for health innovation, to launch Virginia’s only health-focused accelerator program.

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Richmond-based Lighthouse Labs, a nationally-recognized, top 25 seed-stage accelerator, will partner with the Health Innovation Consortium (HIC), a collaborative alliance working to make the Commonwealth of Virginia a hub for health innovation, to launch Virginia’s only health-focused accelerator program.

Founding partners Virginia Commonwealth University, VCU Health, and Activation Capital, launched HIC in 2019 to help bring health innovations to market. HIC and Lighthouse Labs will leverage the new accelerator this fall to cultivate a pipeline of health-related technologies through a three-month immersive learning experience, capital opportunities, and potential for funding.

Making the Commonwealth’s only health-focused accelerator program possible is Activation Capital, a nonprofit organization that focuses on early-stage ideas to foster the area’s growing entrepreneurial ecosystem. A grant by Activation Capital to Lighthouse Labs, along with the contributions of HIC, will support the health-focused programming by Lighthouse Labs in addition to VCU’s efforts to develop new innovations in healthcare.

The new initiative, including expertise, grants, and funding by Health Innovation Consortium, will be offered alongside an industry-agnostic vertical that will also operate as part of the 2020 fall cohort by Lighthouse Labs. Selected companies in both verticals will participate in the accelerator from August 24 to November 13, 2020, in Richmond. During the fall program, the health-focused startups and the industry-agnostic companies selected will work with top-tier mentors as they participate in targeted and adaptive programs.

“Health systems, particularly academic health systems like VCU, are looking for innovative solutions involving every aspect of health care—its delivery to consumers, its technology, and its business models,” said Peter Buckley, M.D., interim CEO, VCU Health System, and interim senior vice president, VCU Health Sciences. “The Health Innovation Consortium was designed to facilitate, support, and scale health innovation. By partnering with Lighthouse Labs, a nationally ranked start-up accelerator, we have the opportunity to attract and engage with the most promising new technologies in the country that can improve the health of our community.”

The companies selected to participate in the health-focused accelerator will use the three-month programming as a springboard to develop digital health and medical device technologies, amongst others. Founders participating in the fall cohort will also have an opportunity to tap into HIC resources, including access to an exclusive network of industry experts, early-stage venture funding, and support, after the cohort has ended.

In addition to equity-free funding, programming, and mentorship, all selected companies will have access to $1 million in advisory services and benefits from partners such as Global Accelerator Network (GAN), Kaleo Legal, Startup Virginia, and other service providers. In addition, companies accepted will participate in Demo Day(s) designed to demonstrate each selected startup to investors, alumni groups, potential customers, and peers.

“Innovation is needed now more than ever,” said Erin Powell, executive director of Lighthouse Labs. “The fall cohort by Health Innovation Consortium and Lighthouse Labs will provide traction for the most promising, high-potential startups to begin making an immediate impact in health-related industries.”

“Beyond the three-month immersive experience this fall, the post-program opportunities, and access to the Health Innovation Consortium network and connection to capital, makes this new offering the most transformative platform for those who have identified the biggest challenges in human health and healthcare and are ready to accelerate quickly to provide solutions,” said Powell.

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