There was once a place called Richmond. It was kinda filthy, pretty dangerous, sparsely policed, and rife with indulgence. The music was loud, fast, and screamed at the top of nicotine-rattled lungs. It died when the punk clubs died. It died when the sex workers on Allen and Grace were shoo-ed away. It died when the Lee-X theater became a legend half-remembered by burnouts on Hell Block porches. When Punchline, the greatest Alt Weekly newspaper this city has ever seen, stopped printing and had its website frozen in time – never to be updated again it died then too. From those leather and vinyl ashes emerged RVA.
Now, it’s hard for many that came of age with this sobriquet so ubiquitous to understand that time before. With every youth-leaning brand “Hello fellow kids”-ing with an “RVA” in its name, it’s nearly impossible to understand those three letters to mean anything coherent. But it did. Saturation never satisfies, in fact it dehydrates. The overuse of the three letters holds a clue to its relevance though. Something happened here. Something rare. Something beautiful. That something beautiful was the full congregation of an entire generation free to pursue their collective joy in sweaty basement parties, late-night river skinny dips, and blowouts at Hadads. While the end product was written in an equation comprising everyone’s positive chi, the intrinsic X factors were the singular personalities leading the RVA charge.
This series of articles is a slow clap ovation for those that carried the banner high and changed Richmond into a East Coast superpower of rad. This is the story of their inner machine, not necessarily their biographies. I want to know what the special sauce is that makes them them.
I hit up one of the most obvious of Richmond’s raconteurs, Marshe Wyche. Marahe owns RVA staple clothier, Rumors Boutique. I’m going to assume you’ve been there but if not, it’s a vintage/secondhand/found art mecca on W Broad in the heart of VCU campus. When it opened in 2007, it was also a record store, a retailer for streetwear microbrands, and a bumpin’ music venue. Marshe and her partner Casey Longyear put everything of themselves into the store and it was obvious immediately. They were two of the most fun, caring, no bullshit but all hugs, entrepreneurs the city had ever seen. Marshe in particular could be found anywhere RVA’s pulse was raised in a passion heat of activity. On top of running an extremely fast paced business, she found time to promote events, support other local businesses and curate the most important street style collection in Richmond.
Today, she bursts through my front door with a large grocery bag stuffed with an air fryer and food she brought to cook while we chat. Because that’s who she is. Marshe starts the conversation immediately, usually with some anecdote from some experience had within the last hour, tuned and hyped to her particular comedy. It’s blast-off from the starting gun with her. Small talk aside and groceries laid out on the kitchen counter, we smoke a bowl and settle in.
The first thing you notice about her is the authority from which she commands a conversation. She knows what she’s talking about. This dark skinned, curvaceous powerhouse always shows up styled and primed with an infectious laugh. It’s this energy that captivates, that draws people to her. It’s the overflowing kindness and enthusiasm for everyone’s good time that keeps them there.
What are your favorite things about Richmond?
The thing about Richmond is everyone has their own personality. That sounds trite but I’ve been all over the world and I’ve never been anywhere where everyone is as content with themselves. I really do feel like any day, if you’re open to it, you can meet your next best friend, or the next person – like your next husband, or wife. I just think that we’re in a place that makes us feel okay to be ourselves. And we project that energy and other people feel it, and it influences them to be the same. Open to others and more importantly, open to themselves. A lot of times that’s why they move here. It’s why I moved here. And so I think that’s what’s really unique about the city is that you have the freedom to be yourself or to be whatever. And I think that’s great. That’s what makes Richmond unique. I can stumble down a couple of streets, or go to a restaurant or comic book shop, a dog park, an alleyway and I could meet someone who believes in themselves as much as I believe in myself, and if we’re interested in each other, we can create a whole world together. And I just really have never experienced that anywhere in my life before except for Richmond. It’s awesome that the shittiest kids that were born the black sheeps of their families could be celebrated for being different.. We’re able to live that life within a five mile radius. Everything is just so accessible, and majestic to boot.
Yeah, it’s mad convenient to be a miscreant.
I just don’t know. I’ve just never been anywhere that can experience the same thing.
I always love seeing what different people’s perspectives of Richmond are, you know, how they approach the city and what they love about it. But there’s also people in that time or you know, of that scene, that were like magnets, yeah, for everybody. It seems like whatever they were doing was just awesome. And I think you’re one of those people. If there’s something you’d like to bring back from the heyday of those RVA times, what would it be?
I would love to see people comfortable sweating on people that they don’t know. That’s what I want to see. I want to see everyone packed into a space, dancing and sweating on each other. Remember shows where everyone was just perfectly comfortable enough to sweat on each other comfortably, to want to be in the same scene, comfortable enough to feel safe, comfortable enough to to have an experience in a packed sweaty room.
I guess Covid had something to do with that.
It’s not just Covid though. I mean, it’s more about the actual attitude, you know, the prevailing attitude of people who are waiting for something to happen versus people who are making something happen. And I think that coming from the early “RVA” era, you know, years that that you and I and other people that we know. There were so many people that were just like, oh, I’m going to do this party. I’m gonna do this event, I know bands and they’re all going to play in my living room. Remember the amazing shows from the artists that were in VCR? They would have those amazing shows, right?
Yeah. And they would like, they would build a whole world and you would just experience it and just pull people in. I also think that we did certain things for the community and the community appreciated us doing it. I’m just saying like, the kids that you’re talking about being in this scene; this you have to understand. They’re completely different from us.
Now it’s like you can take a cute picture on Tick-Tock or a cute picture on Instagram or Facebook and get accolades and you need to focus your day on just getting that. So I just don’t think people have the same kind of motivation to congregate like they used to.
I just think when we were doing all this stuff, and making all the stuff happen, a lot of us didn’t have cell phones. I wasn’t living comfortably at all. Casey and I used to live IN the store and shower at friends’ houses and the Y. I didn’t know what the definition of comfortable was like I do now, you know, and I was okay with that. Like I was okay, living in my store. I don’t think the kids, they’re like these kids can’t have the same level of discomfort. The world completely shifted. I think it was just maybe optimism we had then. I feel a strong responsibility to the kids now to help them get loose.
You mean like mentorship, or just by being the example?
I just think we need to learn to find a new way of teaching, just like, back in the day, somebody would be just, oh, I’ll work for you for free. Free for a year to learn the trade. That shit ain’t gonna fly, hahaha, you know. I can pay my employees x amount of money but they might not have anywhere to live and back in the day I could have trained somebody and giving them a house and giving them board and then there to take care of them. I mean the kids seem engaged and what not, but you know if it’s 25 an hour to get anyone to do anything fun… and really that’s how much it should be. If everybody knows their value and worth and demands that they get it from each thing, then, yeah, it makes sense but it also makes impromptu things harder to do. I guess when you feel like you’re doing it, oh, I did this for the community, I gave us time for the community, it’s just harder to get to that. I think people are still out there that still do that. But nobody ever asks me anymore to do things for Community, they ask me to do something for the thing that they’re doing. And I’m not feeling that connection anymore, because, you know what I’m saying? Yeah, it’s different. But I just feel like we have to find new ways to reach them. The world is changing and I don’t think that the 18 year olds know how to inspire the 11 year olds.
On the note of inspiration, how do you inspire people to take leadership in their Community?
Yeah, it could be just pure entertainment, or it could be something semi-serious, or it could be something that, you know, “I’ve got a food drive” or, you know, something altruistic. But how do you encourage taking the initiative? Simply by example, you know, how do you encourage that in people that make a city? Make a place much more interesting? You know I think they make a place more interesting because they randomly come up with some bootleg thing. Yeah. Something silly. Yeah – something silly but something that’s meant to be experienced in the moment, in person, I think as opposed to being experienced by their viewership on some social media page.
Think about all the people that grow up “different” that decide to move to the city. When we decide, when we’re young, to move here – it could be for music or for arts or for education or for family, it’s an adventure. A quest. However, you stumble upon the scene that we have, seeking a family, you know, and it’s HERE. That family is right here, all around you. So I feel like we had that heart in us when we all found each other. Also it was a lot easier to find each other when you have to be out of your house and not on your phone. I don’t want to sound like a complete Boomer but sometimes it’s good to put the phone down and just BE.
But I feel like, I don’t think you singularly have to inspire people to be leaders in their Community. I think of the community itself as a collective entity. Its existence inspires you to be you in that community. It needs to make you feel comfortable to be yourself and every face you want to put on. Like, I think when you are comfortable in all of your cells, then you want other people to feel comfortable and that’s what inspires. I think that’s always been the mission of Independent Media and people that are doing interesting things. Yeah, I think that’s always been the subtext. Always encouraging people to be themselves, but also feel comfortable within a tribe.
And, you know, I had a great family, a loving family, a huge family, hundreds of relatives, but it wasn’t enough for me to feel loved and appreciated. I needed to be in a group of people all different races, different backgrounds but with common values of celebration towards diversity and subjectivity. I found it in Richmond. And, you know, I want people to have that. The RVA era scene was like being in the biggest gang ever and the only rules were to have the most fucking fun possible.
Rumors has been a thing for almost 16 years right? Exactly 16. Yeah 16 years coming up and I think I’ve seen it go from this cool store with the two cool girls that own it and they sell local and hard to find records, they had bootleg illegal punk shows in the store. You used to throw your annual birthday parties at Hadad’s – more of a lower key Best Friends Day. Rumors was squarely right in the middle of the scene, all the time. And now, I feel like Rumors is a place that Richmonders inherit as a cool city birthright. Once you find Rumors, it’s a place you will continue to go to forever. It’s a pace to name drop in an “assert my Richmond coolness” conversation. I’ve seen it happen with the VCU kids, every time there’s a new semester. There’s people that are here already and they know about it and that’s one of the places they tell new people to go. And I’ve seen them come in the store. I’m not in the store every day obviously but I always smile a little at the times where I’ve seen people, who I know it’s their first time there, geek out. I’ve overheard a girl call her friend and tell her to meet her there “right now”. It’s like it’s a forgotten cave of wonders for the independently chic. I think people actually inherit rumors as a part of their personality. Like, “I shop at Rumors” is a flex.
It has its own energy, its own pulse. I think if there was like a checklist of things you do when you come to Richmond, and I would honestly say, in Virginia, not just Richmond, I think we’re on the checklist. Yeah, I think we’re definitely on the checklist. That might sound pompous, but we’ve worked so hard to try to mirror the feeling that the city gives us through our business. We want to reflect that feeling right back at our community.
I’ve been on a plane before and sat next to these girls – we’re on a plane to Jamaica, I believe. The two girls were talking about their outfits for the trip and were like “what were they going to wear” and all this stuff. And they, you know, mention that they had gone to Rumors and they put all their outfits together for vacation. They were so stoked on their new fits and talking smack about how good they looked in them – and that made me smile hard inside. People have told me when I ask how long they’ve been coming to the store and heard someone be like “oh I came for a VCU tour. I went to the store and was like, okay this seals the deal. I’m going to VCU”. Yeah, I get off hearing that we have that much influence over people’s decisions sometimes. You know it just makes you want to do your business better.
Yeah. I would say Rumors is not a place that you go to. It’s a place that wants you to come to it. It calls to you. You know, like it wants you to feel comfortable and to lose your form and be like water inside of it. You take its shape and it takes yours.
It’s like a cool kid Narnia.
Narnia, haha it really is.
Rumors is a great Ambassador for the city’s vibe.
I think so. I hire the best staff and am as open to people as I can be. I try to be there for people because you know, you can make people feel comfortable. And I know people, there’s lots of people who don’t feel comfortable in their own families, in their own homes, and their own bodies. So to be able to help give them that is special. Even if it’s for a couple minutes it is pretty sweet. Yeah. It really, really, feels great. When you have people that interact with something that you created in such a positive way or just, you know, kind of like a way that feels personal and intimate to them? Yeah. And we created it specifically to do that. We weren’t going to open up a business and be Rich As Fuck, you know. We wanted to be in that mood just as much as anyone that was just shopping there.
With all your boundless optimism and unconditional love for the community and the individuals in it, do you ever feel apathy? It can’t always be Saturdays and sun right? I know, back in the day, you had the benefit of having Casey nearby, but now she’s down in Chapel Hill running the two Rumors stores down there.
Rumors, obviously, is a business. Yeah, it takes work. Yeah, it takes work and it makes money and yeah it’s exhausting and the last thing I want to think about sometimes. Casey and I, we don’t have a board behind us. We don’t have a group of people getting paid dividends behind us, to push us when we’re going through COVID, going through whatever changes are happening. It’s just our belief in ourselves to push forward for ourselves, the company and our employees. That’s all we have sometimes that is incredibly difficult.
There are times when you spend $1,000 to put a new gate in front of your store, and someone spray paints whatever they want on it that day. You’re now like, you just wish that you could have paid them to spray paint what you wanted them to spray paint you know? I mean, I’m down with some street art. I would have paid someone to do it. You give up a lot to create, and you give up even more when you have people that are relying on you. A lot of people create things, but they don’t have employees. It’s very different when you care for the people helping you achieve your dreams. It’s also very different when you care about your community and you want to be a part of it.
And Casey, damn. Not having her around has made me have to grow another head, I’ve grown another head right here hahaha. My neck is very strained from the growth. Yeah but because of that, you do a lot of work yourself. I have had to rely on ‘number one’, my own hard work, and my curated version of aesthetics and all of that.
One thing that’s very important is hiring very well, I have been smart to hire the BEST people. I believe in everyone who I hire. All of them. If they don’t exceed to where I expect them to while they’re with me, I I know that’s just me seeing their future “them”. They’ll get to their peak. If it doesn’t work out with Rumors, it’s because I got to them too quickly. I always think of them as, like, shards of Marche, and they have my complete confidence.
I think sometimes it’s hard to define what makes a person awesome. What makes a person great or lovable, or whatever it is. You could say all these things like, Oh, they’re generous, and they’re kind, and they’re this, that, and the other thing. It all ends up being platitudes that you could, to some varying degree, say about anyone you know that isn’t a jerk. But, to get to the heart of that is simply to ask, what do you care about? What do you love? What do you find to be the animating things that make you you?
That’s a hard question. Yeah. Well, I feel like I’m very blessed in the fact that I grew up around a very large family, who all own their own land and their own homes and their own wild personalities. And they were gracious enough to show me kindness my whole life, and to show me that you can live whatever life you want to live as long as you work hard. I was never able to find that kind of connection again until I found the punk scene in RVA.
And so when I found the punk scene, it was shocking to me that so many people did not have families who supported them, because I couldn’t imagine being weird without the support of weirdos. And the fact that everyone’s a weirdo in this punk scene, I felt connected to them. I wanted to give them back the family feeling. They had community but they didn’t realize it’s the same word as family. And so for me, creating that vibe was important.
My business partner, Casey, the first time we really met was when she was going to shows I threw in Manassas, Virginia when I was in sixth, seventh grade, eighth grade, you know, yeah, she was in sixth seventh eighth grade, too. You know, but I wanted us to have a place that felt like the high you got as a teenager rolling with your crew, just tearing shit up. Richmond needed a place that felt like that.
I’m a businesswoman, I can make money. That’s nothing, but creating energy and connections and being able to check on everyone as a whole and being somewhere where you can survive, like all of it going hand in hand, I thrive off that. I thrive on owning my own business, not because I have my own business, but because I can create a place for someone where there’s no place for them anywhere else.
Also, and I don’t know if this directly follows after what I just said but I think it’s important for happiness. We should stop acting like we’re just one personality, one person. For me. It’s not like, Oh, I’m gonna go on vacation for X amount of months and I’m just world-traveling Marshe. Like I go to work, all of these people go to work. And we deserve to enjoy the fruits of our friggin labor. Yeah, and there’s parts of my personality that want to go to museums. My personality that wants to go to buffets, parts of my personality that wanna, like, fly somewhere just to watch Netflix on a couch with my friend in Amsterdam, you know, the me that eats leftovers every day. Like there’s lots of needs. And I just allow them all to live. Yeah, because we’re all going to work until we die. This is how life goes. So I just feel like it’s important for everyone to understand you’re allowed to be all of you. You’re allowed to like all your hobbies. Your interests, all your genres on Netflix. You’re allowed to have Netflix and Hulu. Yeah, you you’re allowed to have all your parts legitimized.
As far as Richmond is concerned, I just want the city to stay weird. And I want weird people to feel safe. I want to be able to walk the streets at night and look at the beautiful homes and the cool door knockers and just talk about my dreams. Ride bikes at night, when it’s just completely quiet. I want to see the next restaurant that’s opening in the spot that never stays the same restaurant. I want VCU to stay an art school. I want the Village Cafe to always be the Village Cafe. You know, I want us all to be weird and happy.
Give Marshe Wyche a follow @marsherumors
Give Rumors a follow @rumorsboutique