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The Secret Society of Manchester

There’s a secret society in Richmond that most people don’t know about, but many people see every day. In this society, celebrities come to enjoy tasty foods, yogi’s host their weekly Vinyasa classes, and Millennials open up the first of their many businesses. The community is the new epicenter of Richmond’s music, fashion and foodie scene and is completely open to the public. But just after you finish your first workout session at Island Yoga Fitness, enjoy your tasty treat from Soul Ice or spend a weekend afternoon enjoying the art at Art Works, you will quickly feel more like family than a friend. This area is none other than Manchester. And it is worth becoming next weekend’s local destination.

To the naked eye, Manchester may appear to be full of vacant properties, industrialized buildings and old-fashioned architecture. But if you look a little deeper, you’ll see that those vacant properties are pregnant with the excitement of flashy new businesses — those seemingly industrial buildings now house some of the areas most luxurious apartments, and the old architecture is beautifully historic. Manchester is a city unto itself, and the people who live there absolutely love it.

Keisha Cummings, a Manchester Community Advocate, has lived in the area for five years and has seen the area grow into what it is today. According to Cummings, the neighborhood is absolutely beautiful and close to everything Richmond has to offer.

“Manchester is a hidden community inside of Richmond,” explains Cummings. “I loved it when I first moved here because it was close to Shockoe Bottom. I had a beautiful apartment just across the [14th Street] bridge that nobody knew about.”

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Cummings currently lives in the Terraces at Manchester — a 10-story, luxury apartment building that boasts resort style amenities such as a saltwater pool, a rooftop dog park and a sky lounge. Additionally, residents of the 2-year-old structure can enjoy some of Richmond’s best views of the city, including the waterfront view of the James River. And if by chance, Cummings ever grew tired of spending time in her affluent accommodations, she can lace up her sneakers (or throw on her heels) and walk over to Legend Brewing Company to grab a beer, Camden’s Dogtown Market for light bites and wine, or Ironclad Pizza Grill for delicious late night pizza and sandwiches. It is worth noting that Ironclad also offers some excellent vegetarian selections as well.

“Manchester has everything I need,” say’s Cummings. “It’s like the best place to be.”

Cummings is not alone in her views. Shelly Madyun-Burnett, another Manchester resident, agrees with her.

“Manchester is a wonderful neighborhood. Not only are we within close proximity of everything, the area is also very diverse, filled with families and Baby Boomers.” says Madyun-Burnett. “I feel very secure here. Some of my neighbors even feel comfortable enough to leave their car doors open.”

Madyun-Burnett isn’t just a resident of Manchester; she’s also the manager of the area’s top restaurant, Croaker’s Spot. This award-winning seafood and soul food restaurant is the cornerstone of the Manchester community and, arguably, one of the key reasons of why the neighborhood has been on a constant upswing.

In 2010, Croaker’s Spot moved from their home in Jackson Ward to a much larger location in Manchester. And with the move, the restaurant brought along with it their clientele.

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“Croaker’s Spot helped to create an extra piece of diversity. It wasn’t just black people coming to the area. It welcomed people of all races into the area,” says Madyun-Burnett. “They came together and were unified, not just by the food but also by the people. And they also love the history and the background of the Croaker’s Spot.”

They also managed to collect a few awards and famous friends along the way. In 2011, the restaurant won the coveted Steve Harvey Hoodie Award which brought along with it national notoriety. Soon after the win, celebrities from all walks of entertainment and politics began filling the seats with their family and friends waiting to be served their helping of Croaker’s Spot Famous Fish Boats. Celebrities, including NBA Superstar Charles Oakley, singer Tamar Braxton, former Vice-President Joe Biden, civil rights activist Jesse Jackson and actress Phylicia Rashad, have been spotted in the dining room. Some, more than once.

But Croaker’s Spot didn’t do all the work on its own. Several other community activists and business owners have also helped in creating the new and energetic spirit of Manchester. AJ Brewer, owner of Brewer’s Cafe, opened the neighborhoods first coffee shop, offering a healthy selection of java, bites and pastries, plus a daily happy hour that boasts delicious whisky and bourbon drinks. Not to mention, the cafe is also tech friendly, allowing its patrons to order online and through the Brewer’s app.

“I opened up my business in Manchester because this was my home,” says Brewer. “I grew up here.”

Just like Croaker’s Spot, Brewer’s Cafe has also received its fair share of accolades. Travel + Leisure magazine listed Brewer’s as having the best sandwich in Virginia, while Business Insider magazine named Brewer’s as having the best coffee. These notable mentions are great for any business to receive, especially one that’s just entered its sophomore year of operations.

But coffee and sandwiches aren’t all Brewer is concerned about. He also has a few other things brewing.

“I want to build a neighborhood up. That to me is so powerful. I want to give the neighborhood more than what I am capable of getting from it.”

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Brewer’s offers a public Mac computer for its patrons to use. And outside is a coat rack with coats available for those in need.

Last Easter, Brewer hosted Parker’s Easter Egg Roll in honor of his son Parker, which featured face painting, egg painting and hundreds of Easter Eggs ready to be found. Later that summer, he hosted the Manchester Manifest, which brought people from all over the community together to celebrate local foods, artists and businesses. But the highlight of the spring/summer season was First Fridays, another Brewer’s Cafe sponsored event that area residents still wait for with great anticipation.

“Every First Friday, we bring out about 1,000 people to 12th street,” explains Brewer. “We block off the street between Bainbridge and Porter, open up our whiskey bar outside, have several bands, DJ’s and vendors and invite everyone to have a good time right here in the neighborhood.”

And people do come. Many are from outside of the Manchester area. And as more and more people learn about this secret society, the area won’t be much of a secret for long.

“New businesses are opening up every day,” says Brewer.  “Not only did I get to watch the growth of Manchester, I’m glad to be a part of it.”

And Manchester is glad that he, and all of its residents, are a part of it as well.

Ashley Jefferson is the editor-in-chief of River City Style. She currently lives in the Arts District with her fiance, and her Maltese-mix named Asha.


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