We looked back on the year and (with the help of Google Analytics) our most-read stories online. The takeaway? Our readers care about marijuana, Confederate statues, and food—with a side of basketball victory.
Here’s a rundown of our most-popular stories from 2019:
This piece, by longtime freelancer Shea Gibbs, was far and away our most popular online story of the year, even though the print version lost out on the cover to Virginia’s basketball victory (see above).
It charted our state’s halting steps toward marijuana legalization, along with the potential medical, legal, and economic benefits. Though Virginia has legalized CBD and THCA (elements of marijuana that are not psychoactive) and approved other low-THC products for medical use, it lags behind many other states in legalizing medical marijuana and de-criminalizing recreational use, let alone fully legalizing pot as nine states have now done.
As the story noted, a Republican-led state legislature ensured most bills taking steps toward legalization never made it out of committee, but with a blue State Senate and House of Delegates taking over in January, along with a Democratic governor, all that could change next year.
“If we elect a Democratic majority, I think you are looking at a clear, distinct possibility marijuana will be part of a new Virginia economy, along with clean energy,” Kathy Galvin told us back in April. Fingers crossed.
Needless to say, those McIntire-endowed statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson have been roiling the lives of Charlottesvillians for years, and that continued in 2019.
In March, then-C-VILLE news editor Lisa Provence wrote “The Plaintiffs,” a straightforward cover story about the 13 people and groups who had decided to sue the city of Charlottesville to prevent it from removing its Confederate monuments. One of those plaintiffs, Edward Dickinson Tayloe II, then sued Provence and this newspaper for writing about his family’s history as one of the largest slave-holding dynasties in Virginia. He also sued UVA associate professor Jalane Schmidt for observations she made in the story.
In what’s commonly known as “the Streisand effect,” the lawsuit brought renewed scrutiny to Tayloe, with in-depth stories in The Daily Beast, The Washington Post, and other national outlets. In October, Tayloe’s defamation lawsuit was dismissed in Albemarle Circuit Court, which found the defamation claims had no legal basis.
Tayloe had better luck with his lawsuit against the city: In September, Charlottesville Circuit Court Judge Richard Moore ruled that our 1920s-era Confederate statues are protected by a ‘50s-era state law forbidding the removal of war memorials. He issued a permanent injunction preventing the statues from being moved, nullifying City Council’s unanimous vote.
As with marijuana legalization, however, things could look different when the Dems take control of the Virginia legislature: Like David Toscano before her, Delegate-elect Sally Hudson has said she plans to introduce a bill to change the monuments law, and this time, it might actually get out of committee.
Several shops in town sell hemp flowers, which look and smell very much like plain old (still illegal) marijuana—and at least one resident found himself hassled by local cops who couldn’t tell the difference. While industrial hemp is legal in Virginia, as are CBD products, the status of hemp flowers seems to fall into a gray zone. In any event, they contain extremely low levels of THC, so while they may or may not have beneficial health effects, they definitely won’t get you high.
For the summer issue of our glossy quarterly Knife & Fork, we asked The Charlottesville 29 food blogger Simon Davidson to take a measure of the city’s new places to eat. What he found was an ethnic smorgasboard that included fast-casual Greek (Cava), Thai and “southeast Asian street food” (Chimm), Tibetan fare (Druknya House), and Spanish/Mexican-influenced fine cooking (Little Star). Quirky Peloton Station—a haven of inventive sandwiches, salads, and craft brews on tap—also made the list, as did the swanky Prime 109, which our readers voted Best Steakhouse in the annual Best of C-VILLE poll. “While our area’s restaurants scene has long punched above its weight, the latest additions remind us that even in the best food communities, there’s always room to grow,” Davidson wrote.
Earlier this year, one of our reporters was shocked to see a gray Dodge Challenger, the same type of car that was used to kill Heather Heyer and injure dozens of others on August 12, 2017, with a Charlottesville Police Department logo. The car also featured decals of the “thin blue line” flag, a flag that was carried by some Unite the Right attendees that day.
We weren’t the only ones to be disturbed by the department’s tone-deaf taste in vehicles—local community activist Rosia Parker had raised the issue at a City Council meeting, but received no response. In answer to C-VILLE’s inquiries, the department said the car had been designed and purchased well before August 2017. But just this month, after receiving a FOIA request for the purchase records, the city revealed that the Challenger had actually been purchased five months after the tragedy.
Asked to explain this discrepency, police spokesman Tyler Hawn called it “a misunderstanding.” While not apologizing, the city has removed the car from its fleet. “This is clearly a reminder for many of the Summer of Hate and the attack,” said City Manager Tarron Richardson, who made the decision with Chief Rashall Brackney. “We believe removing it from our fleet is in the best interests of the community.”
To say we were surprised by the popularity of this story would be unfair to Wilson Craig, who launched Virginia’s first canned-cocktail brand in a city seemingly saturated by craft beer, local wine, and fancy cocktails. The early success of Waterbird Spirits showed that the region’s thirst for alcoholic beverages extends to portable drinks infused with potato vodka–the brand debuted with four-packs of Moscow Mules and Vodka Soda & Limes in 12-ounce cans. Craig got an insider boost from a family friend, Delegate David Toscano, who introduced and ushered rapid passage of a statutory amendment that made it legal in Virginia to produce a “low-alcohol beverage cooler” using a distilled spirit. But it’s the entrepreneur’s hustle that has really made Waterbird take flight. Craig says he will soon expand distribution to other states, introduce three more types of canned drinks, and start selling Waterbird in bottles.
Many in Charlottesville were stunned and saddened by the sudden death of Nick Leichtentritt, a beloved figure in the local food community who had left a corporate job to open Milli Coffee Roasters in 2012 and, later, Sicily Rose. In May, we were pleased to report that Milli Joe would be reopening, under the direction of longtime customer John Borgquist and Leichtentritt’s younger sister, Sophia.
Hedge fund manager (and UVA alum) Jaffray Woodriff made headlines with his record-setting $120 million donation to the university, to establish a School of Data Science. But with great power (Woodriff is also reshaping the west end of the Downtown Mall with his Center for Developing Entrepreneurs, and gave $12.5 million to the university for a new squash center) comes great scrutiny, and many raised concerns about the focus of Woodriff’s contributions in a city dealing with an affordable housing crisis.
These concerns were later echoed by none other than Bloomberg News, but many local readers were outraged that we had reported on criticism of the donation. “We’re just a about ready to stop reading C-VILLE because of stories like this,” one Facebook commenter wrote.
Our annual list was a mix of old standbys (we’re looking at you, Coran Capshaw), new faces (developers Jeff Levien and Ivy Naté), and a lot of groups, from “Rich guys” to Charlottesville Twitter.
The Hate-Free Schools Coalition was recognized for its grassroots campaign to have Confederate symbols banned from Albemarle County’s public schools (it succeeded after more than a year of determined protest and a number of arrests). And the Counties, Cities and Towns Subcommittee of the Virginia General Assembly also made the list, revealing how “six state legislators you’ve probably never heard of” had the power to block legislation that would give Charlottesville local control over its own monuments.
Of Mayor Nikuyah Walker, we wrote: “While some wish she’d stop trash-talking the town in national media outlets (meanwhile refusing multiple interview requests from C-VILLE), Walker is keen to point out the ugly history and lingering inequities that exist beneath Charlottesville’s lovely façade.”