A hidden paradise for cars, music lovers and pumpkin carvers

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RICHMOND, Va. -- The somewhat hidden Paradise Garage has become known as a paradise for vehicles, music lovers and pumpkin carvers.

"We are like the hidden diamond in the rough," says owner Greg McClellan, "because you don't even know I'm here unless someone tells you."

But there has been a fair amount of telling going on.

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Paradise frequently appears on the best-of lists of RVA publications, even though it's somewhat tucked away down a S. Allen Street alley between West Main and West Cary streets just below the historic Fan District.

Online Google and Yelp reviews have made it even easier to find Paradise.

No doubt it helps that it's a cool place, filled with antique service station and old car dealer signs and lots of historic neon.

There are ancient pinball machines and even a sweet-working slot machine.

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McClellan, who has been living in the Fan for 36 years, said he started doing mechanic work while going to college at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he earned a real estate and finance degree.

“When I was in college they told me to have a skill in case I couldn't get a job afterwards."

He found he had a taste and a gift for it, running his own shop on nearby Shields Avenue for 15 years.

When the dilapidated and all-but roofless Paradise Garage came up for sale in 1999, "I looked at it and said 'I can make it work.' It took about a year and a half to renovate it and then I moved in. And it's been growing ever since."

Greg and his family live just two blocks away, so it's not surprising that the space has a homey feel.

Greg McClellan

Greg McClellan

And he's made it a sweet place to hang out. Touring bands like the Drive-By Truckers and Drivin N Cryin have played there to raise more than $10,000 for the Connor's Heroes cancer support group over the years.

But Paradise is also known for McClellan's annual Pumpkin Party.

"It started out with a pumpkin party in my backyard with 20 pumpkins," Greg said. "So this is the 20th year - now it's about 250 pumpkins. We just invite people over, carve a pumpkin, bring a dish, share it and then have some music in the evening."

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The pumpkin party is October 30 starting at 3 p.m. It's sort of for those who've been or know someone who has - kind of the way the Paradise Garage operates - but Greg isn't anxious to turn anyone away.

It's good clean family fun, especially when they light up all those pumpkins.

"It's crazy," he said. "And then we line them all up down the alley."