Your Top 12 Favorite Roanoke Rambler Stories of 2023

From Roanoke's drag scene to drama over a proposed coffee shop at Fishburn Park, check out our best-read stories of 2023.

No changing of the calendar would be complete without a roundup of our top stories from 2023.

From Roanoke's drag scene to drama over a proposed coffee shop at Fishburn Park, our best-read stories of the year broke news, sparked debate and taught us more about our community.

Since we won't be entering our work into any contests this year, consider all the pieces below — with bylines from Ralph Berrier Jr., Lindsey Hull, Henri Gendreau and Layla Khoury-Hanold, along with photography from Don Petersen and Scott Yates — as winners of our readers choice award.

With your support, let's make 2024 another year of great journalism. Thank you!

—RR

12 - Residents Near Roanoke's Evans Spring Say 'No Development.' The Property Owners and City Have Other Ideas. (March 22)

PHOTO BY DON PETERSEN FOR THE ROANOKE RAMBLER

A couple weeks ago, at a Northwest Roanoke church down the road from a vast swath of woodlands called Evans Spring, nearby residents largely sang from the same choir book. There should be no development of the 150 acres across the interstate from Valley View Mall, they said. But the property owners, and City of Roanoke, have other ideas.

11 - Senate Candidate White-Boyd Rejects Transphobia Claim After Roanoke Brewery Cancels Event (Oct. 18)

A Roanoke brewery last week canceled a scheduled event with state Senate candidate Trish-White Boyd over what it said were accusations of transphobia. Golden Cactus Brewing announced last Wednesday that it would no longer hold a meet-and-greet with White-Boyd, a Democrat and member of Roanoke City Council, after “a number of brewery regulars, employees, and friends” expressed concerns, General Manager Alexa True said in an email.

10 - Spotty Greyhound Bus Service Leaves Riders Stranded in Roanoke Overnight (April 5)

More than a dozen Greyhound bus passengers were stranded in Roanoke overnight Sunday after they say there was no driver to make a scheduled trip to Nashville. The situation emerged as Greyhound has cut services nationwide, including plans to staff and operate a bus station in Roanoke. Passengers said it’s not the first time riders passing through Roanoke have been left in the lurch by the company.

9 - Decades After Urban Renewal Razed Black Neighborhoods, Roanoke Prepares To Apologize (Dec. 20)

When Elvis came to Roanoke in 1972, cars would have wrapped around Kathleen Ross’s home during the sold-out show. Ross was among a few residents who refused to move when the city took land for a new civic center. So the city built the center’s parking lot around her house. “I told them that I would be willing to sell it if they would give me a decent price," Ross, who died in 2001, told a Roanoke Times reporter in the 1990s, years after she moved.

8 - Roanoke's Drag Scene Is Booming, and Performers Are Taking the Show on the Road (June 14)

On Saturday night, a brewery in Wytheville shimmered in rainbow hues. Rainbow-striped hot air balloon spinners hung from the ceiling of Seven Sisters Brewery. Pride flags and floral arrangements topped every table, and a large pride flag was festively tacked up behind the expansive brewery’s bar. Six drag performers — Jezzi Belle, Kei Kei, Amazon Rome, Youneek New York, Anna Dote and Anastasia Paige — strutted into the room in rapid succession.

7 - 'It's Not Over': Fishburn Park Coffee Shop Proposal May Be Revived, Roanoke Leaders Say (May 24)

Efforts to turn the Fishburn Park caretaker’s cottage into a coffee shop aren’t dead yet. Roanoke City Council shocked residents last week by shooting down a rezoning request for the project, despite agreeing in December to sell the building and surrounding parkland for that very purpose. But now some Council members and the developers, Justin and Keri Kidd vanBlaricom, say the deal could still go through somehow.

6 - Roanoke’s Iconic Neon Star May Need To Be Demolished, Replaced, City Records State (May 10)

Roanoke should consider demolishing and replacing its iconic Mill Mountain Star because of its need for extensive renovation, according to an internal city report. City leaders say any wholesale changes to the Star, which was erected in 1949, will only come after extensive community engagement. Discussions are preliminary, officials stress, and no decisions have been made.

5 - New Roanoke City Law May Impact Panhandling. Just Don’t Call It Panhandling. (Sept. 27)

A new city law could affect an increasingly common sight in Roanoke: People asking for money while sitting or standing between lanes of zipping traffic. Concerned about the safety of those loitering in narrow street medians, City Council this month banned anyone from being in a median that’s less than four feet wide. Elected officials say they have received numerous citizen complaints about people panhandling amid traffic. Though a Council discussion about panhandlers preceded the latest action, officials have been quick to emphasize that the law does not target them.

4 - Houses of the Holy: Plans Seek To Convert Historic Roanoke Churches into Apartments (Nov. 29)

The Rev. Joanna Paysour’s voice caught as she opened the last-ever Sunday worship service at Trinity United Methodist Church. “I greet you in the name of our lord and savior, Jesus Christ,” Paysour said, her words tripping and tumbling in her throat, as she tried to quell her emotions in front of more than 40 people in the church pews, the biggest crowd in many a Sunday.

3 - Roanoke Built a Standalone Station for Greyhound. The Bus Company Won’t Occupy It. (March 29)

As part of Roanoke’s new downtown bus station, the city constructed a multimillion-dollar standalone facility for Greyhound to use. The idea was for the intra-city bus company to lease the building and staff it with workers who would sell tickets and provide information, similar to how Greyhound operated for years at the former station at Campbell Court.  While Greyhound still provides bus service to and from Roanoke, the company no longer intends to operate the station especially built for it, according to Valley Metro General Manager Kevin Price.

2 - Here Are 4 New Roanoke Food Trucks You Need To Try (April 19)

Roanoke is experiencing something of a food truck renaissance, as restaurateurs and food business owners are taking the wheel and hitting the road rather than setting up shop. Food trucks offer flexibility, not just in terms of location, but also for scheduling and menus, an increasingly important consideration in the post-Covid landscape of rising food costs and labor strains. From Greek souvlaki to flaky empanadas, birria quesadillas to BBQ jackfruit tacos, ordering from a window has never held so much delicious promise.

1 - Roanoke Neighborhood Leaders Ousted Over Fishburn Park Cottage Brouhaha, Claim Removal Vote Was 'Unlawful' (July 26)

Residents of Roanoke’s Grandin Court neighborhood have ousted their association leaders over their opposition to the city’s sale of the Fishburn Park caretaker’s cottage for a coffee shop. Grandin Court Neighborhood Association President Owen McGuire and Secretary Freeda Cathcart were removed in a 63-25 paper ballot vote on Thursday during a raucous, jam-packed meeting. Cathcart later claimed the vote was “unlawful” and that she and McGuire were still the rightful leaders of the neighborhood association.

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