Hopewell, VA: The Wonder City

Updated: Apr 1, 2020

By MaryCatherine Neal | @mchammuh

Hopewell has been my home for my entire life. But to me, now more than ever, it is a place of happiness, new beginnings, wonder, and—for lack of a better word—hope.

The small city overlooking the river used to be a powerhouse of business, community, and southern culture. But over time, Hopewell withered into the worn-down city I grew up to know and expect. If we wanted to go to a sit-down meal, or a cup of coffee, or a place to sit and catch up with friends, we had to travel to neighboring counties or cities. I spent a lot of my high school years lounging in chairs at Demolition Coffee in a neighboring city called Petersburg when I wanted to get out of the house. No matter who I went with, the visit always ended with the same comment: “I wish we had something like this in Hopewell.”

It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I noticed changes in Hopewell. Suddenly, we had Guncotton Coffee & Gallery to feed my coffee needs and Saucy’s BBQ—home of some of the best tofu tacos you’ll ever try. Regular live music groups started playing at the Beacon Theatre and farmer’s markets started to pull crowds into Downtown Hopewell. Vendors line the streets, including local farmers with colorful produce, an old food truck that has been converted into a mobile clothing store, and bakers from the tri-cities who want to expand their markets to sell whoopie pies, cookies, and loaves of bread. Hopewell is home to festivals celebrating food and beer, encouraging the community to gather, socialize, invest in local businesses, and enjoy what the city can offer if they support it. There is life, energy, and love in Hopewell again.

Every time I go back home, there’s another new restaurant or attraction that uplifts and unites the community. People are proud to live in Hopewell now. They brag, they invite friends and family to visit, and they support the changes in a way I never thought possible. Saying “I’m from Hopewell”' used to be an excuse, almost like an apology—“I’m sorry. I live in a city that everyone sees as a smelly, worn-out excuse for a home. I can’t do anything about it.” But that was before. Before the Downtown Partnership asked the people in Hopewell what we wanted to see. Before we opened our hearts to local businesses, accepting their rough starts and encouraging them to never give up. Before people saw that it is possible to build a family, a life, and a home in Hopewell. For the first time in my entire life, there is a city-wide sense of community, revolving around our shared belief that Hopewell can be something great. These pictures highlight some of the new changes and some of the old legacies of Hopewell that gives it the title “The Wonder City.”

The Hopewell Street sign, located nearly on the outskirts of the small city, stands proudly in front of the Hopewell Fire Department.

The Beacon Theatre is one of Hopewell’s oldest treasures. What started as a silent movie theatre back in 1928, blossomed into a place of cultural rebirth through live music and performances.

Randolph Market has been in Hopewell for almost 80 years. The market is family-owned and prides itself on sustainable sources of produce and meat.

Hanover tomatoes are a delicacy among Virginians on a hot, humid summer day. People from all over central Virginia travel to Randolph Market to buy pounds of Hanover tomatoes for pasta salads, burgers, BLTs, and other southern summer staples.

A refrigerator is stocked with pasta salads, sandwiches, desserts, and sandwich fillings. Randolph Market is best known for its homemade chicken salad, pimiento cheese, and coleslaw recipes.

Lisa’s Café is a newer addition to the Downtown Hopewell scene. It was one of the first restaurants to help launch the revitalization of Main Street.

Guncotton Coffee and Gallery is the only coffee shop in Hopewell. While enjoying delicious coffee and vegan pastries, people can chat with friends, admire local artists’ work in the gallery, or visit events taking place in the back room. One of the more popular events is the indoor farmer’s market.

An americano and a vegan cinnamon roll: the perfect order for a rainy day–or any day–in Hopewell. Guncotton serves a variety of different drinks and partners with a local roastery called Legacy.

A pier outlooking the Appomattox River in downtown Hopewell. The city is currently working on the Hopewell Riverwalk that leads right to City Park downtown from the Hopewell Marina.

Views from the shores of City Park in Hopewell. This place is a popular location to walk dogs, have barbecues, and enjoy sunsets in the summer.

Sticky notes written by children from Hopewell on what Hopewell means to them. Although I wasn’t there to participate, “always home” is what Hopewell means to me as well.