Cary Court Park & Shop Center and Economic Development on Cary St.
When you walk through Carytown, the first thing you notice is the unique atmosphere created by all sorts of restaurants and boutiques, many of which have storefronts that extend nearly to the street. Then you arrive at the Cary Court Park & Shop Center and think, “a parking lot? Here? Really?”
At least, that’s what we at Discover Richmond Tours did. But while doing some research to find out just who would build something that dare interrupt that spectacular stretch of window shopping, we learned something interesting – if not for the Park & Shop Center, Carytown might never have become what we love about it today.
It turns out that this parking lot, built in 1938, was the east coast’s first shopping center that could accommodate a large number of cars. As a result, it changed the way people in central Virginia did their shopping. Previously, one had to drive all over town to buy groceries, pick up laundry, get an appliance fixed, and whatever other errands were necessary. But with the existence of a large, vehicle-accomodating shopping strip, Richmonders could get everything they needed in one stop.
The Park & Shop Center was originally anchored by two grocery stores, and also included a five-and-dime shop (a dollar store, in modern parlance). Today, the oldest shops in the Center are Jean-Jacques Bakery, Richmond Camera, and Schwarzschild Jewelers, though the latter two aren’t in their original location.
The novelty and convenience of the Park & Shop Center during its early years led to shoppers from all over central Virginia coming to Cary St. and spending money, which in turn brought more businesses to the neighborhood. Thus began the street’s conversion from a primarily residential area to a commercial one.
So we’ll forgive the unsightliness of having a parking lot in the middle of Carytown – because without it, we might not have Carytown at all!
Want to learn more about the history of Carytown, and sample several of the street’s best restaurants, cafes, and food shops while you do? Join Discover Richmond Tours for the Carytown Food & History Tour!
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