Life in Blacksburg, VA?
June 15, 2005 7:11 AM   Subscribe

Does anyone have any experience living in Blacksburg, Virginia as a non-student? Or general experiences moving from a big city to a small town?

I am thinking of moving there from DC. I will be able to contract remotely at reduced hours for my current employer, so I will be in a decent situation financially. My sister and an aunt and uncle live there, and when I have visited I love the cute little downtown area, coffee shops, walkability, and the access to outdoorsy activities.

I am really seeking a slower pace of life, and cheaper cost of living than DC. ( The goal is to simplify my life--DC has a certain cost/hassle factor for even the most basic of activities, and housing.) My concerns are the giant student population (I am 30, not really a bargoing type) and the fact that I might be underestimating the culture-shock factor.
posted by eileen to Society & Culture (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Don't underestimate the culture shock. I recall visiting one of my best friends from high school when he was attending Va Tech. There was a huge KKK rally that weekend right through downtown.

The southern end of Virginia is quite different from Northern Virginia, though it has plenty of natural beauty.
posted by the_savage_mind at 7:17 AM on June 15, 2005

I have more experience living just on the other side of the NC border, and I'm from DC. It was a shock. Very very different, and many of the things that I missed were a bit intangible, like a lot of people who shared my concerns and my interests, who were fairly liberal and intellectually curious. The wierd thing is that I didn't really know that I missed those things. I kind of got used to it and then I even decided that I wanted to live there forever. The pace of life is nice and the area is beautiful, and since I'm a white man I got along with basically everyone as long as we only talked pick-ups or whatever. So, I was sold, and actually ended up buying some land in the mountains.

But then I moved back to DC, and after a little while readjusting to life there, I realized that there really was a lot to miss. Sure, there were movies and music and restaurants and everything else that it was easy to quantify, and I found that although I hadn't missed those things, I was so happy to have them back. But, as I said, mostly I found that I couldn't imagine moving back to be surrounded by people who felt very substantially differently about the world, where it was headed, and where it should be headed. [All of my time there was pre-internet, I'm not sure if that's good or bad.]

So, now I live in Baltimore. None of the beauty, none of the cache, much cheaper living, it's own wierd funkiness.
posted by OmieWise at 8:06 AM on June 15, 2005

Don't let that previous post scare you. Blacksburg is a gorgeous area -- there are lots of great restaurants, the nightlife is pretty active if you don't mind college students (there is a lot of live music even if you're not a bargoing person), there is a LOT to do as far as "nature" goes (hiking, rafting, etc.)

I lived there both as a student and a non-student. It's pretty much like any college town. Things stay open late and it's much slower during the summer. The cost of living is CHEAP and there is a fair amount of cultural activity despite its size.

I lived there for seven years and I have to say that I never witnessed KKK activity. It is definitely part of rural VA, which means that there are lots of "good old boys" to be found, but it's also a college town which means there are plenty of young and fairly metropolitan people as well.
posted by trey at 8:08 AM on June 15, 2005

OmieWise gave a very good description of most of Southern Virginia. That said, Blacksburg is to Southern Virginia what Austin is to Texas. Blacksburg is a college town, so many (most?) of the residents are transplants. The downtown area has plenty of resturants and coffee shops geared towards the young adult crowd. Actually, most of the town is geared towards the young adult crowd. One of the bars even went so far as to ban all non-students.

That said, I have friends in their 30s and 40s who live there, and they have no problem finding people to socialize with. There are plenty of organizations and clubs for non-students: acting in plays, playing in an orchestra, etc.

The town is very walkable and has great public transportation.

Lyric Theater - interesting movies and productions
the retreat shown in the movie 'Dirty Dancing'
the surrounding hills and mountains
posted by malp at 10:17 AM on June 15, 2005

I grew up 10 miles from Blacksburg; my parents and plenty of friends still live there, and I am intimately familiar with its way of life. A few observations:

-- Blacksburg is growing fast. To an eye jaundiced by NoVa, it still looks like a backwater, but it's hardly the rural town it was ten years ago. This is good for folks like you (and me, a SWVa ex-pat interested in moving back); more shopping, more restaurants, more stuff to do. At the moment, this growth seems steady and likely to continue for another decade at least.

-- Cost of living is super cheap, though your general shopping will dominated by big-box stores like Wal-Mart, Target, Home Depot, etc. Yes, there are lots of cool shops downtown, but they are almost all specialty or knick-knack shops. There are a couple of okay "natural" food shops, but nothing to compare to say, Whole Foods. A handful of ethnic markets in out-of-the-way places are worth seeking out. Not to mention the Lyric, the art house/second run theater downtown.

-- I know at least one person -- albeit an apartment-dweller -- who moved out of Blacksburg into a neighboring community to get away from the students. 9 months of the year, they are EVERYWHERE. You might consider moving closer to Christiansburg or Radford (also a college town, but less saturated), into Ellett Valley or even Shawsville, though if you can buy a house in a nice neighborhood, i.e. away from the apartment enclaves, this wouldn't be much of a problem. If you're really aching for a backwoods artistic hippie enclave, investigate Floyd, VA.

-- The "way of life" change will be a big one for you. Blacksburg is populated by some extremely smart, intellectual and creative types -- the challenge will be meeting them, since the ones in our age group are all young profs and post-grad students at Tech. The one thing the Blacksburg area lacks, unfortunately, is young professionals. Local kids like me leave to go to school and never come back; Tech grads take their engineering degrees off to Richmond or NoVa. This lack of peers could be more isolating than the geography.

-- Last word about Southwest Virginia: yes, the area around Blacksburg is full of good 'ol boys, but the town itself is comparatively urbane and offers a modicum of diversity (there are some Indian, Chinese, & Korean families in the area). The only KKK rally I remember had an interesting outcome; town residents, ashamed that the Klan was marching through their outpost of intellectualism, turned the rally into a fund-raiser for the United Negro College Fund. Every step the Klan took raised money for scholarships, and the picture of the "rally" I saw in the paper showed 3 guys, 1 kid, a pickup truck and a dog. Pathetic rather than scary, and it did more to help black youth than it did to spread racism.

I'm one of several MeTa members who finds Richmond to be a nice alternative to the hectic pace of DC life, though the fact that you have family in Blacksburg is an added attraction. Email's in profile if you've got more questions; this is a question I ponder deeply and often.
posted by junkbox at 10:25 AM on June 15, 2005

Just an idea, but apartments can be rented cheap during the summer months. You could rent one for the summer and see how you like the area. If you don't like the area, you'd be out 3 months rent (a few 100 dollars).
posted by malp at 10:39 AM on June 15, 2005

No offense to the_savage_mind, but you can safely ignore his comment. Washington D.C. has had KKK rallies in the past, but it's no reflection on what D.C. is all about. I spent the better part of 5 years in Blacksburg and never even saw a KKK poster or flyer.

If I could find work there, I would live there in a heartbeat.
posted by Witty at 12:11 PM on June 15, 2005

Here's a Mefi post about the Lyric.
posted by Witty at 12:13 PM on June 15, 2005

I moved from my home of Charlottesville to Blacksburg in August of 2003 and moved back in December of 2004. I'm 26 years old, and not at all the bar-going type, so I imagine that my experience was much like yours would be. What with my being a blogger, I wrote a lot about this. It's a nice town, but were I to live there longer, I'd live outside of town, in the country. (Strictly speaking, though the country is in the town, in parts.)

I have no idea of what the_savage_mind is talking about. Blacksburg, Montgomery, and Floyd County are all pretty open-minded. Floyd was where hippies nationwide fled to avoid the Vietnam draft, and the culture there continues to reflect that.
posted by waldo at 12:41 PM on June 15, 2005

What witty said - don't believe the kkk hype bullshit. Would you not want to live in DC because a few dumbasses staged a black panther rally?

Blacksburg is a nice mix of country and academe. But it is too small for me.

Floyd is worth looking into if you like places with an arty/crunchy vibe. Similar to Asheville NC.

Personally - living among likeminded people isn't high on my priorities list. I like an eclectic mix. Bloom where you're planted I say.
posted by vronsky at 2:56 PM on June 15, 2005

I'm a 30-year-old grad student living in Blacksburg and am quite happy here. You've already noted the "cute little downtown area, coffee shops, walkability, and the access to outdoorsy activities" -- and the whole bizarro KKK thing has been addressed -- so I won't get into all that.

About the students: yes, they do seem to be everywhere. However, it is possible to escape them, if temporarily, by picking the right neighborhood. My boyfriend and I rent a house only 10 minutes' walk from downtown, but our street is generally quiet and townie-ish because there aren't any apartment complexes or frat houses in the immediate vicinity. (Our neighbors on both sides have lived in their respecrive houses for almost fifty years. One of them gives us vegetables from his garden on a regular basis, which is a nice bonus.) You may also enjoy living on the outskirts of town; there are no undergrads, and it's absolutely gorgeous. If I had a car, that's definitely where I'd be.

I don't spend a lot of time in bars either, and manage to keep myself pretty well entertained. However, meeting people could be an issue. I haven't gone out of my way to do so and as a result I've only made a couple of good friends in ten months here. As junkbox mentioned, there are a lot of really great people around; the problem is finding them. If you don't have a built-in possible-friend-generator such as work or school to fall back on, you will have to make more of a deliberate effort to get involved in the community.

Incidentally, I see from your profile that you're an artist. A few weeks ago at a birthday party, I met a painter who's lived in Blacksburg for years and moved here specifically because, as she put it, "It's a wonderful place to get your work done, whatever your work may be." She really seemed to know what she's talking about.

Well, that's all I can come up with at the moment but if you have any questions please feel free to drop me an email... mine's in my profile. And if you do end up moving here, give me a call. :)
posted by purplemonkie at 8:01 PM on June 15, 2005

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