Part two in a series
It’s important, where we live, and the reasons. That’s why the county began the local part of the comprehensive plan update by asking people in and around Crozet why they like living here and––in the case of newcomers––why they came. The answers were unsurprising but still satisfying: Crozet is surrounded by breathtaking beauty, takes pride in its good schools, welcomes families, and is close to Charlottesville while keeping its small-town friendliness. Later, we asked recent and long-term residents to say a little more about why Crozet is their chosen home. This is the second in a series.
Long before Crozet’s growth exploded, it appeared in photos as a portrait of an idyllic destination, a railroad stop, a town in its own right but close to Charlottesville, a place with beautiful views and a slower pace.
One thing most of those photos had in common: “Just about every image had Crozet Pizza in it,” said Michael Alexander, who owns and manages the pizzeria with his wife, Colleen. That trend has continued, with the typical realtor’s Crozet sales package including the former pole barn converted by Colleen’s parents, Bob and Karen Crum.
“We’ve tried to keep up with the growth. It’s sometimes been a struggle, especially with the parking.” The first expansion was in 2014, when Crozet Pizza expanded into the former video store, then most recently when it incorporated the former Over the Moon bookstore. “We weren’t always sure we needed all that interior space,” Alexander said, “but we knew we would definitely need the parking.”
Another challenge has been keeping a small-town, friendly atmosphere while substantially expanding the space. “I think we’ve done it,” Alexander said. “Part of is because of our employees, many of whom have been with us for a long time.” There are also customers who have been near-daily visitors since he can remember. “They appear automatically every day at about the same time.”
Alexander said the dough and sauce recipes are the same ones that landed Crozet Pizza on the “Best in the World,” “Best in the USA,” and “Best in the State” lists of various travel magazines. But it’s more than the dough that keeps those regulars coming in. Alexander has the same vision as the original proprietors of Crozet Pizza, he said: a place that feels like home and has an upbeat and joyful atmosphere. “I tell the staff that we’re throwing a party every day.”
It’s one thing to say the local schools are great when you’re a realtor; quite another if you’ve been in the trenches for a quarter-century as both a teacher and a parent. That’s the point of view of Marcy Williams, a veteran kindergarten teacher at Murray Elementary. As valuable as her perspective is, it isn’t even unique, Williams said: of her 12 fellow teachers, nine have had children go through elementary school there.
Williams acknowledges that the situation there is unusual: “We’re destined to remain small,” she said, “so we have some advantages that other schools don’t.” For one thing, each student comes to her with a bit of history she likely already knows. In one case, she said, she taught the father of one of her five-year-olds years ago. And wherever she goes in her neighborhood, there’s going to be someone she connects with: a student, a parent, past and present.
Besides understanding more about family connections than teachers in larger, more urban schools, Williams also knows what some of her children deal with in their homes and neighborhoods. “It’s always gratifying when children who didn’t get a lot of family support work hard and ultimately do well,” she said, “but on the whole, we get wonderful community support.”
She acknowledged that the participation of parents—in large part, mothers—has slowly diminished as more women join the workforce, but “everyone does what they can,” she said. In her school, retired neighbors and grandparents take up some of the slack, and the school is mindful of work schedules when events are planned.
Williams herself was attracted to the quality of the schools when she made the decision to move here. Shortly afterwards she began teaching second grade, took a few years off when she had small children, and then returned to teaching kindergarten. She had no hesitation in confirming that Murray students are fortunate that everyone works together to provide the best possible learning atmosphere. In this small school community, each teacher helps the next teacher understand the students as they move up.
She’s also had two children graduate from Western, and one is presently is a junior there. As far as her personal experience as both a teacher and a parent, she has no regrets, Williams said: “If I could go back all those years, I wouldn’t change anything.”