When I came back home from DC to stay with my parents during the pandemic this summer, I didn’t imagine that I would end up staying in Richmond indefinitely.
Although I’d grown up here and loved coming back to visit, it just hadn’t been on my radar as a place to live as an adult. I’d left for college in Boston, and moved to Berlin and then DC for jobs. I considered myself a big city person, and also assumed a larger metropolis was a requirement for pursuing my career in the arts.
But then an opportunity came up to work in marketing at the Richmond Symphony, and I found myself really excited about it. I decided to stay, started my job, and moved to the Fan, where I’ve loved getting reacquainted with my hometown. All the things that I’ve known intellectually about what makes Richmond great have really hit home during this weird, difficult time.
For one thing, the sense of community here is really special. Richmonders root for each other in a way that I haven’t seen anywhere else. Especially working for an arts nonprofit, this means the world to me. I love feeling like people care about the work we’re doing at the Symphony and that we’re a real part of the community. I see the same spirit in the widespread support for local businesses, local artists, local news. We’re proud of our city and that feels good.
On a related note, people are just nice in Richmond (some Southern stereotypes are true). It’s not that people in Boston or Berlin or DC were mean, but there’s just a certain friendliness, warmth, and patience here (the collective calm over the line for breakfast at Early Bird Biscuit Co, casual small talk with a vendor at the South of the James Farmers Market, a little wave as I pass someone on a walk through Byrd Park) that makes day-to-day life a little bit easier. I feel like this is an unquantifiable part of “quality of life” that makes Richmond a pleasant place to be.
Another big (and very quantifiable) difference is affordability – something my time in Boston and DC absolutely did not set me up to expect. I already knew from trips back that a night out here is notably cheaper, but the difference in cost of living really blew me away when I started looking for apartments in Richmond. Now that we’re all spending so much time at home, it’s incredible to be able to afford a place with natural light and enough room to spread out (for comparison, I was budgeting to spend almost double what I pay here for what would most likely have been a very small basement apartment in DC). This is huge as a young person, not only for staying sane while working from home right now, but also for my ability to save for the future.
The other thing about Richmond that just can’t be beat is the ease of getting outdoors. This has been my lifeline during the pandemic: being able to ride my bike to Belle Isle, meet friends for a socially distanced picnic at Maymont, take a convenient morning hike on the Buttermilk Trail, or make a day of it by driving to Shenandoah. And of course, there’s nothing better than the river in the summer.
Sure, there are things I miss about the other places I’ve lived, but when I think about the things that are most important to me about city life (arts, culture, and lots of good food), Richmond’s got them all – even more so than when I last lived here 7 years ago. And especially during a year when it feels like the world just keeps grinding us down, it’s frankly a relief to live in a city that’s a lot less exhausting than others. This is a hard time to be a person anywhere, but I think being in Richmond makes it a little bit easier. I’m grateful for the city’s outdoor spaces where we can safely have fun, for the resilient arts scene, for plentiful delicious takeout, for socially-distanced brewery patios with affordable local beers, and for the kind, supportive people who live here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
When Helena Barth, a Digital Marketing Coordinator at the Richmond Symphony, moved back to Richmond from D.C. due to the pandemic, she didn’t expect to stay in Richmond indefinitely – or to fall back in love with the region. Read her story to find out what she’s discovered that made it feel like home all over again.