A Taste of Honey and Hope
Published: 19/3, 2019
I recently had my first taste of mead, or Òhoney wine.Ó And I must say, the experience was a bit overwhelming. Not the mead itself, mind you. After all, the drink has been around for several thousand years, and is enjoying a revival thanks in part to growing interest in craft beers and other small-batch beverages. And the varieties I sampled were indeed quite tasty. What made this mead special was that it wasnÕt made in a traditional wine-producing region or overseas, but in what had been a long-vacant storefront in a part of Hopewell, Va.Ñmy home townÑthat has had little to cheer about in recent decades. It hasnÕt been for lack of trying, of course. While local industries, a nearby Army base, and close proximity to Richmond have always provided a decent employment base, HopewellÕs downtown has suffered the same fate that has befallen other towns and small cities after new shopping centers and big box stores siphon away shoppers. Absent a reliable anchor with mass appeal, downtown was something one passed through with hardly a glance. But after many years of big revitalization schemes gone bust, and Ònext big thingsÓ faded into short-lived fads, Hopewell may have finally found hit upon a sustainable formula, adapting the live/work/play revitalization model currently underway in underutilized urban areas from Florida to California. Several new restaurants and other businesses, including the meadery, have opened in advance of new high-end apartments that will be marketed to Millennials who like the idea of all these attractions within easy walking distance of their homes. Concurrently, the City is working to make the nearby riverfront more accessible, providing a connection t once limited to a handful of property owners or kids and other adventurous souls with no fear or snakes, briars, or mud. What has this small-town feel-good story got to do with concrete cutting and drilling? Certainly, the new projects are good for the areaÕs construction industry, especially with so many existing buildings now looking ripe for renovation and reuse. And to paraphrase Frank Sinatra, if this formula can work here, it can work in other communities with dormant downtowns. Of course, timing has had a lot to do with HopewellÕs nascent success, and the redevelopment goals could still fall short of expectations, or be starved by an economic downturn or competition from other long-stagnant communities. (Believe me, there are plenty of them down that way.) What will surely separate this effort from others, is the same game-changer that brought it about in the first placeÑa lot of hard work and perseverance by a lot of people who saw assets where others saw only despair, and put no limits on either their imagination or due diligence. Not unlike the construction and demolition professionals who put their reputation and resources on the line to launch and grow their own businesses. (See? Another construction connection!) Well then, a toast of mead to them all. May the success taste just as sweet.