What gives a town its character? It’s a complicated question, but here are two easy answers: great food and local rituals. For years, Bluegrass Grill and Bakery has offered both. There’s the pre-meal ritual of waiting outside, rain or shine, for a chance to squeeze into a rickety wooden chair in a little diner with mandolins hanging from the rafters. Then there’s the whole wheat biscuits, groaning stacks of pancakes, and specials like the Hungry Norman—eggs Benedict and sausage links on an English muffin, with blackberry jam and goat cheese. (Often, too, there’s the post-meal ritual of running to the ATM, because you forgot that the place only takes cash.)
That’s all gone, now. This week, owner Chrissy Benninger announced that the coronavirus shutdown left no path forward for Bluegrass. After 19 years, the beloved spot has closed for good.
Benninger says the prospect of an indefinite period at partial capacity spelled doom for the restaurant. She was granted a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan, but she turned it down—the loan would’ve covered wages, but wouldn’t have been able to cover rent, insurance, or worker’s compensation. “The numbers did not even close to add up,” Benninger says. “My heart did not win this one.”
“I am extraordinarily proud of what Bluegrass has become,” she says. “I’m proud of my staff and what they gave to that place. Both my children worked there with me.”
Every day, Charlottesville becomes slicker and sleeker, home to more and more tech companies and luxury apartments. Now it’s down another weird, charming diner. Bluegrass “represented the flavor of the town,” Benninger says. “Charlottesville—it’s quirky. Every town needs one of those places. It’s somewhere to feel safe. It’s somewhere to feel like, it’s home.”
Quote of the Week
“My message today is that we will reopen Virginia next Friday.”
—Governor Ralph Northam, speaking at a media briefing on Monday, May 4
With pressure mounting nationwide to “reopen” the country, Governor Ralph Northam announced Monday afternoon that Virginia could begin reopening as early as May 15.
COVID-19 tests performed last week showed a decline in positive cases in Virginia, indicating that social distancing efforts have slowed the spread of the virus here. Hospitalizations for coronavirus also remain below the state’s emergency capacity. But nationwide, a recent Trump administration report forecasts new coronavirus cases to hit 200,000 a day by month’s end.
Phase I of reopening, which could last two to four weeks (or longer), will continue to limit social gatherings to 10 people or less. People will still be advised to wear facemasks in public and stay home as much as possible, especially if they are vulnerable. Though teleworking will be encouraged, businesses—including restaurants, retail, fitness, personal care, and entertainment—will be allowed to reopen with industry-specific guidelines. All establishments will be required to use face masks, as well as implement physical distancing measures and enhanced cleaning practices.
If cases continue to decline, a second phase would ease additional restrictions on businesses, and limit social gatherings to 50 people for approximately two to four weeks. Vulnerable populations will still be “safer” at home. When there is no evidence of rebound cases, the state will enter its final phase of reopening, lifting all restrictions on social gatherings. However, it remains unclear as to when vulnerable populations will no longer be asked to stay home.
On April 30, white supremacist Daniel McMahon of Florida pleaded guilty to charges of levying racially motivated threats of violence against local activist and community leader “D.G.,” a would-be candidate for Charlottesville City Council who subsequently dropped out of the race. McMahon faces an additional charge for cyberstalking, and could serve up to six years in prison.
UVA continues to ponder whether to bring students back to Charlottesville in the fall. This week, the school sent out a survey asking students for input on a handful of potential options, including mixing online and in-person classes, breaking the semester into chunks, and even holding classes on the weekends to thin out the crowds in academic buildings. The university says it will announce its final plans by mid-June.
At its May 4 meeting, City Council agreed to add the roughly $250,000 it received under the CARES Act for coronavirus relief into its current Community Development Block Grant plan. The money will go toward public services, economic development, and administration/planning. An additional $500,000 the city received from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will be used for housing assistance and community and economic development.
While it’s now legal to remove Confederate monuments, downtown’s Lee and Jackson statues are still up, and still getting vandalized. On Thursday, April 30, an unknown culprit likened the generals to COVID-19, scrawling “THE PANDEMIC” on the base of the Lee statue, with an arrow pointing upward. City employees removed the graffiti Friday morning, but the incident remains under police investigation.