Businesses, police by Virginia State Capitol prepare for potential weekend threats

Contractors board up windows of buildings in Downtown Richmond, by Virginia State Capitol.
Contractors board up windows of buildings in Downtown Richmond, by Virginia State Capitol.(wwbt/nbc12)
Updated: Jan. 15, 2021 at 11:18 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Virginia Capitol Police warded off drivers by the Virginia Supreme Court Building on Friday afternoon, as K-9 units hunted for any explosives inside after a bomb threat is called in around 1:30 p.m.

It took about an hour before people were allowed back inside.

It’s a volatile time downtown as more plywood got hammered into place in the hopes of protecting buildings along Main Street this weekend. It’s just another precaution after threats of violence nationwide against state capitols.

“For us, it’s really just heightening our awareness of our surroundings,” said Ashely Williams, founder of BareSOUL Yoga.

She says they’re taking extra precautions at their location off South 13th Street. Apart from locking the front door during business hours, they will also “have a check-in assistant to make sure our guests can come in and out, and that our students feel safe coming in and out.”

In addition, they will encourage students who may not feel comfortable being downtown on Sunday and Monday to take virtual classes. “We have these guarded windows so hopefully there’s not access to damage them too much,” Williams added.

She’s been in touch with fellow business owners about the weekend. A lot of them have plans in place, like not working from offices and working from home. But not Sefton Coffee nearby.

“People want to know if we should board up or not on both sides. I will not be,” owner Jennie Mae Skinner said. She plans to stay open. “I think I’ll actually remain open on Monday, as well. It’s a holiday but most of my customers right now are people who live here. That’s my base so we’re here anyway.”

Many wonder if Friday’s bomb scare was a prelude to the days ahead.

“It looks like it’s a lot of chaos or something disorderly, I can always just close. I’m happy to take a nap,” Skinner said. “I’ve boarded up once, and there’s been a lot of chaos before, and I honestly feel that I’m not concerned. I’m just going to hang out, and hopefully, people just want coffee.”

Sefton was in the epicenter of last year’s gun-rights rally. Skinner remembers filling order upon order as her shop filled to the brim with ralliers.

She’s hoping for a less dense scene come Monday, as more gun-rights advocates are planning to caravan in their cars downtown.

Philip Van Clean, president of The Virginia Citizens Defense League, is hoping for a repeat of peaceful demonstration.

“We have suggested to our members to stay in the caravan, and just move on through Richmond,” he said. “Our organization has always lobbied, it’s always done things by the book, and stayed within the law.”

Public gathering permits that have been denied on Monday shouldn’t affect the VCDL’s caravan. Van Cleave says the first wave of vehicle should come upon Richmond around noon.

Meantime, the public won’t be able to visit any City of Richmond buildings even after MLK Day. They will close through Wednesday of next week.

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