Carytown, Then and Now

When you hear Carytown, what comes to mind?

As a native Chicagoan attending college in nearby Williamsburg, VA, my experiences with the historic Richmond neighborhood were limited to a one-time trip I took with friends in 2012. We hit all the thrift shops, boutiques, and cupcake stores we could find and retreated back into our colonial environment. As a current Marketing Intern for the Valentine, I wanted to find out what the bigger picture was about one of Richmond’s biggest tourist attractions. While Carytown has a rich history, today the area represents much more than Cary Court or the Byrd Theatre.

Cary Court shopping center in 1955.


Historically, Carytown has been one of the most notable areas of Richmond. Located in midtown on the southern end of the Museum District, the Cary Court shopping area opened in 1938 and functioned as Richmond’s first strip mall.

The Byrd Theatre.

The Byrd Theatre, also a notable landmark, was built in 1928 as one of the Nation’s Grand Movie Palaces. Named after William Byrd II, one of the founders of the city, the theatre is now both a State and National Historic Landmark. Since it’s beginning, the theatre’s appearance has been largely unaltered—and second-run movies still cost just $1.99. The Byrd also still continues its long-standing tradition of Saturday night performances of the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ, carrying over the past into the present-day.

The nine blocks of stores that first comprised the area soon multiplied—by the 1960’s Carytown had developed a reputation as a shopping area where you could take care of multiple purchases at once. Through traffic began to increase, and more and more customers and tourists began to flow through the area.

New Year’s Eye 2012 on Cary Street.

In addition to retail stores, Carytown has developed its own sense of character by way of many events and festivals that take place in the area over the course of the year. The Watermelon Festival, an annual end-of-summer event that has taken place for the past 30 years, is a favorite not only in Richmond but in many of the city’s surrounding counties as well. On several years on New Year’s Eve, the merchant’s association held an event where a ball would rise from the Byrd Theatre. Wine, film, and fashion festivals are some of the other types of events that are held throughout the year.

Present-day Carytown.

Today, the streets of Carytown have come to be called “The Mile of Style”. An increasing number of clothing stores, specialty stores, and restaurants began to pepper the street. The food, shopping, and “something for everyone” sense draws a diverse group of Richmonders and out-of-towners alike to the neighborhood. While the character of the street has certainly evolved over time, it is the original buildings and sense of history that gives Carytown it’s charm and continues to draw people back, again and again.
-Marisa Weidner
PR & Marketing Intern
College of William & Mary

Photos courtesy of the Valentine Richmond History Center Collection & Google