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A ‘makers’ community growing in an old Shockoe Valley building

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RICHMOND, Va. -- When most of us think of Shockoe Valley, we picture the busy club, restaurant and apartment districts of Shockoe Bottom and Shockoe Slip.

But for the most part, the northern half of the valley sits below the radar. It's sort of a hidden no-man's land of old industrial buildings shouldering a railroad track and a covered-over sewage creek that once served as Richmond's cesspool.

It's kind of a renegade place, said custom knife-maker Brent Stubblefield.

"Bacon's Quarter Branch was the name of the valley for a long time, before it was, like, Shockoe Valley," he said after shaping the edge of one of his forged, stacked-steel blades.

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"And the Butchertown Boys kind of controlled this area. They were a boy's gang from the slums. This history of this area is so amazing."

It's why it's the perfect place for his "Join or Die" shop.

His is just one of the many makers spaces that are slowly filling the vast 1920s-era Shockoe Valley Manufacturing building on Valley Road.

It's like one of Richmond's sprawling artist collectives - buildings so filled with artist studios they become works of art themselves.

But this place is populated with artisans, makers, fabricators and tinkerers.

It's like a maze of tools and projects in progress. It you're a how-things-work person like me, it’s heaven.

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Over here is the vast space of set designer and builder Joshua Bennett, who finds the space inspiring "being surrounded by all these different people doing all these different things."

Next door is the upholstery space where everyone's friend Jordan Waldrop (of Poe's Pub fame) practices the lifelong art he learned from his grandparents.

Shop after shop. More than 20 cool and diverse spaces, it looks like.

Bands practice in spaces there. There are skateboard ramps inside so woodworkers and metalsmiths can unwind.

"We can do anything we want here," said Cory Manning of Engine and Frame, a motorcycle co-op of sorts where bike-lovers can work on their own machines, help each other and/or get expert advice in a community-like space filled with tools, lifts, compressors and lots of quite experienced motorcycles in various stages of rescue or modification.

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"I want to create a place for weirdos to hangout and cultivate their weirdness via motorcycles," Manning said.

Richmond has always had a strong and proud DIY (do it yourself) culture, he said, and Engine and Frame is all about building on that.

Laurie Lay, a board member of the non-profit arm of the motorcycle collective, said they're trying to "bring the culture together. Make people interested in making things happen."

The whole building is like that. If you think young people don't know and love the trades and the old ways of making things, you should check this out.

Come join us on a video tour!