Valentine’s Day: Keeping your wallet (and their heart) whole

Blacksburg, Va., Feb 11 – PLENTY OF KISSES: Chocolates, like these iconic Hershey’s Kisses, can be a great low-budget gift for anyone with a sweet tooth. Hershey will produce nearly a billion of these candies for the Valentine’s Day holiday alone.

by Troy Clark –-

Valentine’s Day will be here before we know it, and Blacksburg offers plenty for couples both young and old to busy themselves with on this special day.  Here in town, there are options for couples looking to have an extravagant experience or a calm, reserved experience away from the crowds.

According to, the average Valentine’s Day couple spent almost $400 in 2019 – that’s $196.31 each, by their math – on gifts and experiences for the big day.  And with nearly a quarter of that cost going to dinner or a night out, it can be hard to choose the correct location.

“Booking typically happens fairly quickly,” remarked Shannon Faherty, bartender at 622 North. “We’re one of the hotspots for date night in Blacksburg.”

A wine bar and restaurant on North Main Street, 622 North is one of many locations in the area that provides a special, limited Valentine’s Day menu.  At a fairly affordable price of $67 per couple – or $47 without alcohol – this option offers an easy, upscale dinner at one of the highest-rated locations in town.  Faherty emphasized the care that their head chef and sommelier have put into the wine pairings with each dish, making this experience truly unique among similar offerings.

“They really take a lot of time and consideration while making the menu, and it really goes to show when we have all these people come in,” furthered Faherty.

Other restaurants in town, such as Ceritano’s, also on North Main Street, also offer a similar special menu option for Valentine’s Day reservations.  Not every couple is looking to spend a significant amount of money or time out, however, and there are plenty of ideas in Blacksburg for this as well.  Local venues are open as usual on Friday night, and the Lyric Theatre on College Avenue is no exception.  The Theatre has two showings of Uncut Gems scheduled for the night, and tickets will run $7 each or $6 with a membership.

However, many Virginia Tech students are simply staying home, or letting others do the planning for them.

“I have an exam on Friday, so I’ll take that,” said Megan Reilly, a junior at Virginia Tech.  “Then I have a date party. It’s more convenient to go to a Greek event than it is to make your own plans.”  Reilly’s sentiment echoes that of an ever-increasing demographic, with Business Insider reporting that 51% of Americans planned to celebrate the holiday in 2019, down 4% from the previous year. Reilly also mentioned how she has been inundated with homework so far this year, which has made Valentine’s Day hard to plan around.

No matter the choice couples make this year, there is always a backup plan: McDonald’s in Blacksburg will be open until midnight on Valentine’s Day.

Preparing for winter power outages

Blacksburg, Va., Dec 3 — LIGHTS OUT: The Alleghany neighborhood is one of the many Blacksburg communities experiencing blackouts. Photo: Samantha Hamilton

by Samantha Hamilton–

Families in the New River Valley are experiencing power outages that are believed to be a result of the temperature drops Southwest Virginia is currently experiencing. The outages have affected areas such as Blacksburg, Christiansburg, Radford, Fairlawn, Shawsville, and some neighborhoods in Roanoke.

 “Usually power outages are a result of insufficient generation online to support the high demand surrounding them,” said technical electrician Antoine Holland.

Home electric power systems are made to withstand extreme weather in most cases says Holland. However, according to National Geographic, “If temperature extremes are worse than forecast or happen faster than forecast it can result in local or widespread overloads that may cause service to some neighborhoods to go offline automatically or switch to rotating blackouts.”

As the temperatures continue to fall and threats of more power outages increase many families are concerned about staying warm.

“Without power, you can’t have heat. Luckily, we have a gas stove so that can help us, but there are others who don’t have that,” said Blacksburg power outage victim Kyra Parker.

But it isn’t just heat that can be a problem, refrigerators will stop running causing food spoilage. Parker says her family makes sure to keep non-perishable foods in their pantry.

The time it takes to get back online varies based on circumstances with outages lasting anywhere from hours to weeks.

“Your region, neighborhood, circuit, powerlines, underground lines, even workers…they all have a role in determining how long it will take to restore power,” said Holland.

It’s scary not knowing, no one likes being in the dark Parker admits. Power companies have started adding ‘check outage status’ tabs to their websites allowing families to get an estimate on repair time.

“Appalachian Power keeps us updated,” said Parker. “Our recent outage only took 2 hours to restore power.”

According to Edison International, extreme weather isn’t the only cause of power loss. Vehicles, trees, animals, earthquakes and even people can be responsible. No matter the situation it’s always important to have a plan.

Holland believes taking the extra precautions now can protect your family when it matters.


Gettin’ thrifty

Blacksburg, Va., Nov. 4 – Brad Kesling, co-owner of VTThrift, takes pictures of his inventory to post to the company’s social media. Photo credit: Sarah Cundiff


by Sarah Cundiff–

When it comes to fashion and clothing, who doesn’t love a unique find? Or even better, one that doesn’t break the bank. Even greater than that, how about an option that is sustainable for the environment? If you ask Brad Kesling, co-owner of VTThrift, there’s nothing better.

Kesling is a senior at Virginia Tech studying accounting and marketing, who along with fellow Virginia Tech student and co-owner Kyle Tan, took over VTThrift back in 2017. 

“It started out as a thrifting hobby but now it’s much more,” said Kesling. “We didn’t create the actual Instagram page, VTThrift was created by Carter Davis and he had about 200 followers at the time. Me and Kyle [Tan] were avid customers and bought all the time.”

He wasn’t seeking out thrifting as a business venture (although according to a Fortune article, that proves to be very profitable), but when the opportunity arose, Kesling knew it was a chance to take this hobby and turn it into his passion.

“Going into my sophomore year, [Davis] said he was done with it and me and Kyle both messaged him at the same time saying we’ll take it over. We saw a much bigger vision for it,” said Kesling.

Now, VTThrift has over 3,000 followers on Instagram and has sold over 2,500 items. So what makes it special – besides the fact that it’s completely owned and operated by college students? Well for one thing, there is no brick-and-mortar location. At least not all the time. 

Besides online ordering via Instagram, VTThrift holds “pop-up” shops at distinct times in various locations around Blacksburg.

In addition to the fun of pop-up shops and the convenience of having orders delivered directly to customers’ doorsteps, VTThrift and thrifting as a whole, also provides a clothing buying option that is better for the environment, according to an article published by the University of California Berkeley.

Blacksburg resident Audra Bernard, thrifts for similar reasons. “First of all I think it’s cost-effective, it fits with my personal style, and it is Earth-friendly and sustainable,” said Bernard.

“I guess it’s important like our mission statement is to provide a sustainable source of fashion for college students at a discounted price,” said Kesling. “I think sustainability is also something we’re really trying to push because another big trend within clothing is fast fashion and people go through clothes so fast, but why do that when there’s so many existing clothes.”

Business plans and ambitions aside, for Kesling it all comes back to a love of thrifting.

“I think VTThrift is really good for people who maybe aren’t really in the thrifting scene and don’t really know how to find things,” said Kesling. “I really encourage people to go out and do it for themselves because it’s a really fun time.”


Adjusting to hotel life as a VT freshman

Blacksburg, Va., Sep. 26 – HOTEL LIFE: Freshman, Devin Dent, plays video games in his hotel room, turned dorm room, at The Inn at Virginia Tech.

by Ally Larrick–

After the unanticipated growth of Virginia Tech’s student body this year, the university made arrangements to house a portion of the 2023 class at the Holiday Inn Express and The Inn at Virginia Tech (The Inn). Once news broke, questions arose as to who would be chosen to live at these hotels, as opposed to the on-campus dorms. For Virginia Tech freshman, Devin Dent, the decision to live at The Inn was all his. 

“We actually picked to live here. We could have picked any of the other dorms, but we were like ‘Hey, there’s air conditioning,’” Dent said. Along with securing air conditioning, Dent and one of his roommates agreed on other perks such as a bigger room, being closer to classes, and having their own bathroom. 

The rooms at the Inn, on multiple floors, transformed from hotel rooms to dorm rooms over the summer. This included twin beds, with the ability to be lofted, desks and desk chairs, as well as collapsible wardrobes to save space.

A message from Patricia Perillo, Vice President for Student Affairs, states, “We consider the hotels part of our campus residence hall system and will provide student and professional staff, social opportunities, and other valuable educational programs as we do in all of our halls.” This transformation allows Virginia Tech to accommodate the influx of students while making them feel like they are still living the dorm life.  

“It didn’t really change my freshman year. It feels like a dorm in here,” Dent said, “Sometimes I refer to it as my dorm, but usually just ‘The Inn’.” Although Dent and his roommates are pleased with the living situation for their freshman year, there are some who are unhappy. 

According to Housing and Residence Life, “Assignments for incoming first-year students and transfers are made in contract receipt order, so the earlier your contract arrives, the earlier you are assigned in the process.” Those who filled out their housing contracts really late were not placed in their first choice dorms but were placed in either The Inn or the Holiday Inn Express. Dent points out some of the biggest differences between dorm-life and hotel-life that students may struggle with. 

“The amount of people, dorms have a lot more people in them. Location, because they have the quads while we are over here kind of isolated,” Dent said. 

In addition to students, resident advisors (RA’s) had to adjust to the switch. RA’s in large staff residence halls, such as Vawter Hall or Pritchard Hall, are required to sign up for one shift at the Holiday Inn Express each semester. Meena Kannan, an RA in Vawter Hall, has yet to complete her shift, but she knows that some of the RA’s are not very happy about it.

“It’s kind of inconvenient to have to go over there. It is just another duty shift on top of the ones we already have to do for our own residence halls,” said Kannan, “but I think we all understand we have to help out because they’re pretty understaffed at the Holiday Inn.”

The adjustment has not been easy, but the understanding attitudes of the RA’s and many accommodations by Student Affairs, keep the freshman in good spirits.

There doesn’t have to be a crisis to donate blood

by Sarah Cundiff–

New River Valley Donation Center

Blacksburg, Va., Sept. 28 – The New River Valley Donation Center: The American Red Cross New River Valley donation center is open for blood donations Friday through Wednesday. Photo: Sarah Cundiff


If you receive emails from the American Red Cross, or if you have been to a sponsored blood drive recently, you may have noticed there seems to be an urgent need for blood. But why is there such a push right now? If there hasn’t been a natural disaster or catastrophe recently, then why is there such a great need? 

To put it simply, the need is always great, partly because the supply is never abundant.

According to the American Red Cross, every two seconds someone needs blood. That means that in the time it has taken you to read this article, nearly 11 people will be in need of blood. So while the Red Cross does seek blood donations after disasters, they emphasize the daily need for new donors.

Senior Leina Greenwalt, president of the Red Cross Club at Virginia Tech, understands this demand and believes college students are in the perfect position to give.

“If you have something that you are able to give and especially since students don’t have much to give moneywise, your body makes [blood] constantly so why not give what other people don’t have,” said Greenwalt.

While the Red Cross Club at Virginia Tech sponsors blood drives on campus multiple times throughout the year, students and residents of the New River Valley can give almost anytime at the New River Valley Donation Center.

“Another thing I don’t think a lot of people know about is there’s actually a donation center in downtown Blacksburg that’s open pretty much everyday,” said Greenwalt. “It’s a permanent donation spot that people can go to everyday.”

Unfortunately for those in need, the abundance of opportunities for people to donate does not guarantee action.

A statistic from the Community Blood Center website says that only 37 percent of the U.S. population is eligible to give blood, and according to the American Red Cross website, only three percent of those who are qualified actually do.

Generally, those who are at least 16 years old and 110 pounds are qualified to donate blood, according to the AABB website. Potential donors may also need to comply with a list of criteria that can be checked before a donation appointment. 

The process of donating blood may seem intimidating to some, but for others like Christiansburg resident Nick Huber, it’s the ideal way to help others.

“It doesn’t take up very much time at all, it costs nothing, and it can actually help save people’s lives,” said Huber. “So I think in terms of the cost versus the benefit, it’s super valuable and definitely necessary.”

It may be assumed that a large reason people do not donate is due to a fear of needles, but according to Huber, people have no need to fear, “It doesn’t hurt at all. If you’re squeamish about needles just don’t look at your arm and you won’t even know it’s happening,” said Huber. “It might be kinda weird, but it’s definitely worth it.” 

Image from full infographic that can be found here



Food Truck Rodeo rolls into town

The Chow Down Downtown Food Truck Rodeo returns to Christiansburg for the seventh consecutive year.

by Cory Van Dyke

CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. — Downtown Christiansburg Inc. hosted the seventh annual Chow Down Downtown Food Truck Rodeo on Friday, September 13. A total of 16 food trucks made the trip to West Main Street in downtown Christiansburg.

With thousands of locals strolling the streets, the Food Truck Rodeo offers a huge economic boost for the community. Downtown Christiansburg Inc. president Justin Sanders notes that the intense year-long planning pays off once the day of the event rolls around.

“When I see so many of my friends and neighbors smiling and laughing and having a great time, it’s all worth it,” Sanders said. “Those happy faces and the connections that we are able to facilitate by gathering the community together for a great night are the best.”

Sanders estimates that 6,000 – 7,500 people attended the Food Truck Rodeo despite the gloomy weather.

“Food Truck Rodeo was started as a way to get people in downtown Christiansburg and show off the incredible things it has to offer,” Downtown Christiansburg Inc. president Justin Sanders said.

Furry friends like Mickey take in the scents from all the different food options.

16 food trucks from all over the state find their way to Christiansburg. Thai This from Radford exemplifies the unique cuisine at the rodeo.

One of the hottest commodities is the personal pizzas from 800 Degrees Wood Fired Pizza.

The locals demand for a funnel cake vendor results in Suzie’s Funnel Cakes based out of Pulaski being invited to the rodeo.

Fresh smells like those from the smoker at Master Sergeant BBQ fill the air of downtown Christiansburg.

“Food Truck Rodeo is a major economic event for our region,” Sanders said. “Food Trucks are small businesses, and the money they make gets reinvested into our local economy.”

Smooshed ice cream sandwiches satisfies the sweet tooth at the end of the night.

The New Habit Band, a local bluegrass band, performs to keep the vibes flowing at the Food Truck Rodeo.

“I hope that we can continue to grow and expand not just our number of food trucks and size of the event, but also our participation of local businesses,” Sanders said. “If we can get another 10 or 15 people coming downtown regularly, we’ve done our job.” (Photos by Cory Van Dyke)


Rise of child food allergies

by Taylor Perdue, Tatjana Kondraschow–

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New River Valley, May 9 – Foods Not Allowed: Signs put up in daycares indicating which foods are forbidden and will not be served. Photograph: Tatjana Kondraschow


Schools, daycares, and even nurseries have had to drastically change and take major precautions in recent years due to the massive increase in severe food allergies in children — mainly ages 5 to 13.

In the New River Valley area, schools have had to do multiple PSAs, that update all the time, like the one for Radford City Schools that updates its website frequently. The website describes first how any kind of nuts are banned from the premises and then introduces a new option that will be offered for free to students — sunflower butter, which is, “a safe and tasty choice for children with peanut, tree nut, and soy allergies … it is free of peanuts, tree nuts, gluten, soy, and dairy.”

Tierney Whelan, a daycare teacher from Montgomery County schools, talks about a child at one daycare with a severe dairy allergy and the kinds of snacks they can and cannot serve. In an interview, Whelan states, “We can’t allow any dairy in the classroom when he comes in. When we serve a morning snack to the kids, we just don’t serve any dairy even to the kids who can have it just because we want to avoid the possibility of [the child] consuming any dairy even off the floor or from another child because he would have a severe allergic reaction even from just eating a little something with dairy.”

Elementary schools and even high schools have had to take precautions. For instance, just three months ago, WDBJ reported that a senior from William Byrd High School passed away due to an allergic reaction to nuts.

Not only children, but parents are having to make serious adjustments in their homes but also to their social lives. A report released in February of this year by the Food Allergy Facts and Statistics website revealed that parents with children with food allergies in the U.S. collectively spend $25 billion annually and also revealed that “more than one-quarter of parents surveyed during food allergy appointments report that their children do not participate in camp or sleepovers because of food allergy. More than 15 percent do not go to restaurants, and more than 10 percent avoid child care settings or playdates at friends’ houses.” 

Jessie Hamblen, mother of three, said at her children’s private school, kids cannot even eat any thing with nuts for breakfast or before coming to school in case they breathe or touch a student with a nut allergy. Laura Wang, mother of three and teacher, had a child in her class that, “…had super severed food allergies and had to leave by ambulance three times in one school year.”

Though there is much debate on the reason for the incline in food allergies, everyone agrees on the safety of children. Whelan says, “Our main goal is the safety of our kids. Though the precautions we take are extreme, it’s all good in the end to make sure our kids are healthy and safe from anything harmful that could be easily avoidable.”

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Image from Full Infographic at


Pulaski looking to revitalize its historic downtown


by Emily Ball, Dana Seigelstein–

The town of Pulaski is looking to bring their town a new look along with improving their population in the area.

Pulaski, Va., May 8 – Main Street: Main Street in Pulaski is where most of the renovations are coming. On this strip, there will be a cafe that will feature New Orlean style food and plans to be open in the next six to eight months. Photo: Dana Seigelstein


The town of Pulaski’s downtown has been suffering from a lack of businesses and people visiting the area. Employees of the town have been striving to gather funds and host events to try and make their community a more happening place.

Nichole Hair, Deputy Town Manager and Zoning Administrator of the town of Pulaski, said when she was hired in 2016, they got two grants for doing some downtown planning efforts right off.

“Those two grants allowed us to hold community input meetings,” said Hair. “We did about 300 hours with 40 citizens, coming up with a vision for the downtown, coming up with a mission for the downtown and looking at the plans for the future.”

After getting a master plan, the committee then was able to apply for a large grant from the state, specifically from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. The DHCD also provided the funding for the first two grants they received in 2016.

Pulaski is currently revitalizing West Main Street where 15 buildings are involved, street improvements, way-finding signage, and just a general facelift to that area. In addition to the front section of Main Street, there will be renovations to the backside of the structures, along Pete Creek.  These additions will be railings and signage for information and educational purposes.

Earlier this month, the town held a free conference for the community. According to the Roanoke Times, this event allowed community members to come and learn more about the changes that are coming to the area. They were able to see how to open a business or help out, have walking tours of the areas under construction and have one on one time to ask questions.

After the two day conference, Pulaski was announced to be one of the 15 communities participating in Local Foods, Local Places. This organization helps cities and towns protect their environment and human health. According to the LFLP website, two of their 2019 partners reside in Virginia and are no longer accepting new applications until late summer.

As the town is taking actions to change, Mayor Dave Clark says that he sees the future of Pulaski being a place that people want to be and call their home. He says that the process of incoming businesses is interesting since they are not apart of a large change. While there is no compiled list of incoming business entering Pulaski, there is a large number of people who have expressed their interest.

“I ask for people to come and visit us,” said Mayor Clark. “We are a jewel in the New River Valley. Anywhere in the New River Valley is a great place to live, but Pulaski is home.” As Pulaski continues to evolve, Mayor Clark says that he is very proud of his town, past, present and excited to see what the future will bring.