By Garland Pollard
RICHMOND – So we were in Richmond last week, and at least got to see the outside of the restored Miller & Rhoads department store building, which is now Miller & Rhoads Residences condominiums and a Hilton Garden Inn. Click on the link above to learn about the condo project and the make reservations in the hotel.
It is hard to believe that at one time, Richmond Renaissance and the city of Richmond wanted to tear it down. Luckily, smarter heads prevailed.
Today, the Miller & Rhoads aspect of the building is a potent lure to visitors, who get to see but a sliver of what was the most Virginia of places, the Miller & Rhoads department store. In its heyday, the store was a living reflection of what it was to be a Virginian, though even by the 1970s, they lost their edge. (Thalhimers had Ralph Lauren and the good brands; Miller & Rhoads had stuff like Arrow and Farah. Miller & Rhoads, after all, sent Perry Elllis packing because he started a store on Grace Street called Sunny Day.)
The Hilton copy says it:
Formerly the beloved Miller & Rhoads Department Store, the original marble floors and restored millwork grace the lobby, providing our hotel guests with a combination of historic charm, southern hospitality and modern amenities. This new and inviting Hilton Garden Inn hotel is an easy choice for the discerning traveler and for families who are looking for a place they can feel at home.
Please do go to Richmond and book a room, and think about when Richmond was at its cultural apogee, and “southern hospitality” was king .
According to the Times-Dispatch, the retail space in the building has yet to be leased. This retail space is on the south side of the building, along East Grace Street.
Stuff that folks who want to come from across the country will want to know:
- There is no Tea Room at the hotel (big mistake) but at least some menu items will be on the banquet menu, which will be a potent draw.
- The clock is at The Valentine Richmond History Center.
- Santa has been at the Children’s Museum each Christmas. It’s a pitiful sight to have him out there. He needs to go back home downtown, to the hotel.
- The condo development used the mid-century logo of Miller & Rhoads, not the ugly one from the 1980s.
If you like reading about department stores, and like shopping in them and supporting them, please read BrandlandUSA’s list of surviving downtown department stores.
We do suggest Venture Richmond and those others who are promoting downtown Richmond like the Richmond Convention and Visitors Bureau leverage this building and history for all it can. This is a bit of a challenge because it is not a store, the thing that people want to see. They will have to improvise. We suggest:
- Hotel management needs to work together with cultural groups to schedule fashion shows in the ballrooms. This means the hotel, city and other cultural groups that traditionally used to meet in the Tea Room (Junior League) need to work to PROGRAM the event space in the hotel, however small it is.
- Collector shows ought to tap into the nostalgia of Grace Street, including Thalhimers, Montaldo’s, Cokesbury, Berry Burk, Greentree’s, LaVogue and the like. While there is not a giant market for Miller & Rhoads collector merchandise, there is a small devoted market for it, and combined with the market for all the regional fashion brands from Virginia, and the national fashion brands sold at the store, it would be interesting to tap into that with collector shows. A few years ago, I was WAY outbid on eBay for an empty coffee tin of Miller & Rhoads coffee. It went for over $80, I think. (Note: I WILL not ever give up my tin of Miller & Rhoads butter mints.)
- The lobby, however small, needs to be a sort of public living room.
- Attract fashion “trunk shows” to come to promote brands like Doncaster, and other clothes companies that hold them.
- The things from mid-century Richmond need to be valued and promoted to give visitors a sense of the era. That’s a longer discussion than I have time for here, but it must be done for Richmond to regain its sense of itself. The era of Mad Men in Richmond was very exciting, and the new Miller & Rhoads needs to tap into it.
- Retail in the storefronts to be leased should complement what was in Miller & Rhoads, and not just clothes but food, antiques, books, Virginiana, etc. This is FAR more difficult than it sounds as traditional retailing in downtown Richmond is more than a challenge. But again, it must be done or the momentum will be lost.
Now that the work of restoring the building is finished, there is much more hard work to be done. The good thing? It is all fun from here on out.
And we should emphasize that what needs to be done does not have to be extravagant or large, it just has to be good, and done with love. While M&R was a store, it was really about people. A simple good cup of coffee, served by the hotel with a gracious spirit, might be all that is needed.
We would love for readers to post some ideas on what THEY think should happen at M&R, and on Grace Street, in order to bring it back: