Travellers, students, vagrants and more are all invited to Richmond’s first hostel, which opened its doors right before the UCI Worlds.
Unlike a hotel and its extravagant amenities, guests are welcomed by a modest doorway leading to a narrow staircase with the words “Hi, let’s spend some time together” imprinted on the adjacent wall. It isn’t until patrons walk up the staircase that they find themselves in the lobby.
This one part of a chain of worldwide hostels called Hostelling International. The organization has hostels in over fifty countries. In August, they opened ‘HI Richmond,’ adding the River City to its collection of venues.
Hostels aren’t anything like hotels — a hostel is a low-budget, sociable version of a hotel, where guests can book beds instead of rooms, often sharing their room with strangers. While some may find this uncomfortable, the idea behind it is that guests can meet strangers to tour with while in a foreign city or country.
“We have a different concept of privacy in the United States than they do in Europe. We like to have our own space and keep to ourselves,” said Ethan Ashley, the general manager of Richmond Hostel. “With a hostel, it doesn’t allow you to be completely by yourself all the time. But that can be an advantage, because you get to meet new people and share tourism information.”
Hostels typically attempt to reflect the culture and history of the location in which they reside. The Richmond hostel is no different: The words “Richmond” and “RVA” are decoratively displayed on the walls throughout the hostel as a tribute to Virginia’s capital. The walls have kept their uncolored brick and wooden appearance from the days when the building was a women’s prison — though viewers of the building today may find this hard to believe.
Although there is plenty of decoration and furniture in the lobby and kitchen in the hostel, the occupancy spaces are more modest in their design, and most rooms give the guests the essentials: a bed (sometimes a bunk), a window and a communal restroom.
Junior interior design major Noshin Faruque, who inspected the interior of the hostel as part of a class visit, felt that the design of the hostel did justice to the historic aspect of the city.
“I think it’s a beautiful space for people to communicate,” Farque said. “The living space is comfortable too, it’s very eye catching. It definitely has a rustic style, with a little bit of city life. It feels like you’re on the railways by the river. It’s very southern, you wouldn’t see an interior that looks like this in New York.”
The idea of a hostel is relatively obscure, but the independant hostel industry is rapidly growing in cities around the world. According to the New York Times, during the 2008 economic crisis, as hotels across the United States reported low occupancy rates, hostels found that their occupancy rates had risen.
While Hostel International originally bought the midtown space in 2007, plans to build the hostel had to be put on hold due to some of the company’s internal setbacks. The hostel was finally completed in August, in time for the UCI Road World Cycling Championships in September.
“We didn’t get as much business as we expected during the bike race. I think a lot of local companies had that problem as well,” Ashley said.
Like many of the residents in it, the hostel is still adjusting to life in Richmond. As a non-profit, the costs not used to maintain the hostel are given back to the community. The hostel hosts community events for its temporary residents as well as locals. The hostel will also be working with Habitat for Humanity while some members come to Richmond engage in community service.
For now, Ashley is focusing on his efforts to spread word of the new hostel not only so it can have more guests in the future, but volunteers as well.
“We’re still new so we don’t have many volunteers but we’re working to find more,” Ashley said “It’s rewarding to volunteer with us. Volunteers can earn free stays at any hostels and other amenities.”