Tammy Rostov, BJ Kocen, and Jennifer Glave created the West Main Village in 2014 in an effort to “Embrace the Race” — that is, the 2015 UCI Road World Championships that will come to Richmond, VA, on Sept. 19-27.
The event is expected to draw 450,000 people to this relatively small city. So we sat down with these savvy entrepreneurs to learn more about their thought process, their challenges, and their big dreams for what may come as a result of their efforts to close down the block in front of their shops and host a street fair on Main Street in the Fan district of town.
Be Inkandescent: When did it first hit you that you absolutely had to do something to get some of those 450,000 people into your stores?
BJ Kocen: I think it was the minute we heard about the race coming to Richmond. We knew that the only thing that could top this event was if Richmond secured a bid for the Olympics. So this is huge! We talked to a lot of people who said they plan to stay home to avoid the chaos. They are worried about traffic, and they think this race is just going to be a huge nuisance.
But the three of us felt differently. That’s why we came up with this idea of embracing the race, because we see it as an opportunity for all of the business owners in the neighborhood to come together and work on something big that is certain to be a ton of fun.
The world really is coming to Richmond, and we want to welcome all these people from different nations to our great city. We want to be ambassadors. We want them to have a good time, be comfortable, and we want to show the world what RVA has to offer.
Be Inkandescent: Do you also hope that West Main Village will be a group that does other events in the future?
BJ Kocen: Absolutely. We see it as a great way to pull together the folks who have businesses near ours, and while having it continue past the race may take a little effort, we are up for the challenge!
Be Inkandescent: Your two shops are right next to one another on West Main Street. Tell us how this big idea to host a street fair was set into motion.
Tammy Rostov: It started last May 2014, on a Thursday. I remember it clearly because a group of kids was handing out information packets explaining that the road would be closed all weekend long because the collegiate bike races were coming through town. They wanted to let us know there would be a slight inconvenience.
I was intrigued, so I went down to watch the race and see how it would impact the neighborhood. It dawned on me then that in September, we would have the world race in town — and it would be a huge event. We knew from Richmond city officials that the road in front of our stores would be blocked to traffic, so we decided to take advantage of the opportunity.
BJ, Jennifer, and I went to City Hall to get a closure for the road so we could create a village during the last three days of the race. The first step was to invite all the neighbors to come hear about what was happening, and think about what we could do to maximize our visibility. We also talked at length to Monica Callaghan from the Richmond 2015 organizing committee. We had about 20 people at the first meeting. We all sat down and heard the numbers and what it was going to look like, and it created this excitement about how we could embrace it and what we could do to welcome these people into our community.
Be Inkandescent: Tell us about the master plan for West Main Village. What exactly are you doing on Sept. 25-27?
BJ Kocen: The biggest thing is attracting the fans who will be following the racers down the race course along Lombardy Street. It’s one of the big bends in the course, and they are going to be racing through this portion of the course every 20 minutes. So fans who stand on our piece of Main Street will get to see the racers fly by — but what are they going to do for the next 20 minutes?
Our plan is to create a family-friendly area, where people can hang out and wait for the next heat to come through, but not be bored. We are literally completely changing the block. My gallery space is being rented out to a pop-up bike expo and shop. Shram bikes is also coming in and renting another gallery across the street.
Along the street we’ll have vendors renting tents — everything from arts and crafts to sports vendors and jewelry stores, too — and we will have a children’s activity center. So there will be plenty of places to sit and hang out. Plus, all of the restaurants in the area are going to have to-go food ready. It’ll be one-stop-shopping that is fun and easy for visitors. The vendors will be on the 1600 block of West Main between Lombardy and Vine. That is the only area that will be blocked off to traffic.
Tammy Rostov: And, there will be bike valets so people can ride their bikes to Main Street and leave them there. The bikes will be safe, they can walk the course and they can always come back and get the bikes.
Be Inkandescent: What’s also interesting is that when racers turn from Lombardy onto West Main Street, the curve is tight.
BJ Kocen: That’s right. It’s a really fun spot of the race, and we are thinking of calling it the Main Squeeze because they’re going to have to really cut to make it without crashing. So people are going to be able to stand there, morbidly maybe, waiting for these guys to wipe out. It’s going to be an interesting alternative spot to watch the race.
Be Inkandescent: Are you guys doing anything special? Is there going to be special bike coffee?
Tammy Rostov: There is! We’ve come up with a Too Tired blend, which we will be serving and selling. That was top secret — until now.
Be Inkandescent: This plan has evolved over the last year. What have some of the challenges been?
BJ Kocen: It has all been challenging. But as my father said to me, if it’s easy it’s probably not worth doing. The first challenge was to get all the business owners together because they are all very busy. And I wouldn’t necessarily say we had any push-back from the Richmond 2015 group, but they were working out so many details that they didn’t have all the information we needed when we wanted it. I think we assumed maybe this organization would be a conduit between the race and the business owners, and that ended up not being the case pretty quickly. We learned early on that we were sort of on our own.
Tammy Rostov: The good news is that we’ve had a nice response from our City Council person who has been very helpful. Ditto for the Richmond City Police Department, which has worked with us to ensure that the Main Street Village area will be safe and that we do a good job.
Be Inkandescent: What I really love about your story is that you have embraced the entrepreneurial spirit by embracing the race.
BJ Kocen: Indeed! There are plenty of people who want to try to put something in place and buck a system or get some sort of leverage to get an advantage. But our goal is to establish relationships and build something that will be great during the race — and continue afterward. We are on a mission to maintain the integrity with what we wanted to do with this village. I think that’s one of the reasons we were have been successful, because we were very charming about it.
Tammy Rostov: I have a funny story. I’ve gone to every single meeting Richmond 2015 has had for the community and when they open up to questions they first thing they say is, “Tammy do you have a question?” And because there are always so many people in attendance, there is a rule that you can only ask one question — but now they say, “Okay Tammy, you can ask two, just make it quick.” And then they chuckle. Now when the organizers see me walk in the door, there’s a little camaraderie. They know I’m full of questions; I want to know everything.
I have been here since I was 11, and I’m really proud of Richmond. I know the race — and our West Main Village initiative — will be a huge success. I know my business will do fine, and we expect to generate three times the sales that we normally do in a day. But I hope other people in the block are successful, too. I think we have awakened a spirit in all the business owners on the block to think outside the box — not just keep their regular hours and do business as usual — but instead create a special, welcoming area for the guests to hang out and have fun.
Be Inkandescent: Here’s to embracing Richmond 2015!
For More Information
- Click here to learn more about BJ Kocen and Jennifer Glave’s gallery, glave kocen gallery.
- Click here to learn more about Rostov’s Coffee & Tea.
- Click here to get the Richmond 2015 Race Schedule.
- Click here to read the press release about the partnership between the Virginia Tourism Corporation and Richmond 2015, the race organizer.