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Our annual Valentine's Day buss to those Richmonders who did something special.

The Big Smooch

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To the city's elevator inspectors For keeping us going up right

We send a demure kiss to the city's overseer of elevator inspections, a modest man who prefers to do his work behind steel doors. He states adamantly that he doesn't want his name or picture in print, so we'll send a few hundred more smooches to the guys who inspect and maintain Richmond's elevators.

Why? Because they make it safe for all of us to effortlessly rise and descend at the push of a button, even jump up and down if we are so inclined. "Elevators are the safest forms of transportation there are," Stephen Burnett, owner of Wingfield & Hundley Elevator Co. Inc., says firmly. His company is one of several that installs, inspects and fixes elevators in the Richmond area.

What exactly do the inspectors do? Burnett sighs. It's a little too in-depth to explain, he says, because each test is dictated by strict city codes. He will say this: Routine inspections are performed both annually and semiannually, in procedures that last two to four hours.

"And every five years," he says, "the elevators go through an extreme test."

Extreme test? Does it involve elephants?

Sadly, no. The technicians run the elevators at speeds that exceed their ratings and with heavier-than-allowed weights, Burnett explains. Don't try this yourself. To be certified as an elevator technician takes five years of school followed by on-the-job training, he says. "So you should feel safe when you ride an elevator."

For warm memories

A short kiss goodbye, no looking back, to the Richmond names leaving town, stepping down — and, in one case, crashing to the ground.

So long to our chief federal prosecutor James B. Comey, who left us for the same job in New York City; and to Police Chief Jerry Oliver, who is off to the risky environs of Detroit.

Good luck to former Gov. Jim Gilmore, who is still around, figuring out where he'll go to work. And to former Attorney General Mark Earley, who lost the race for governor.

Bye, Sen. George Allen, who moved to Northern Virginia — finally selling his family's Richmond home at his wife's insistence. And in another political circle, happy trails to former Mayor Tim Kaine, who took the path from City Hall across the street to the office of the lieutenant governor.

A surprised farewell to Richmond Schools Superintendent Albert J. Williams, who dropped the bomb on Jan. 7 that he would retire at the end of the school year. And to his counterpart in Goochland County, Harold "Bud" Cothern, who announced a few days later that he would be leaving, too.

And a thank-you to S.A. Burnette, retiring at the end of the year as president of J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College after 26 years of service.

A sly goodbye goes to Patricia Cornwell, our favorite somewhat-reclusive, security-conscious crime writer who we could always brag about.

And to John Mark "Journey" Johnson: We thought you had to stay at the YMCA. Well, he is; but the much-loved president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Richmond will take the same position at the YMCA of Middle Tennessee. Johnson started his 18 years at the Y as executive director of the Tuckahoe Family YMCA, then became president of the Greater Richmond branch in 1991.

And to the demolished Wonder Bread bakery downtown, between West Cary and West Main Streets — may your closing bring plans for your now-flat property as sweet as the warm, comforting smell you delivered daily.

For giving when it mattered most

A heartfelt smooch to all those who gave of themselves — literally — to help the injured of Sept. 11.

In our urge to help we turned to many places — in Richmond we turned particularly to Virginia Blood Services, the group in this area most responsible for collecting blood, and to the local chapter of the American Red Cross, where employees and volunteers worked tirelessly to focus aid where it was needed.

The professional cadre of volunteers deserves our profound gratitude. But a lot of thanks go to the workaday people who gave. Many gave money. And of course, many, many gave blood.

In the days after the terrorist attacks, thousands of Richmonders turned out to donate blood, partly because it seemed the fastest, purest way to help. Even people who never got around to giving blood before lined up to do so after Sept. 11. This was an epochal outpouring of sympathy. The tragedy was so overwhelming that it was almost like we felt some primeval urge to give some part of our actual bodies — as if other ways to give were somehow insufficient.

Some were turned away in an effort to be sure that blood would not be wasted. Sadly, many of those who took rain checks have not returned. They should.

For 75 years of caring

Seventy-five Valentines to the Junior League of Richmond. For 75 years this volunteer organization for women has created community services, taking a chance on projects that were needed but not necessarily easily funded. Among its innovations for which Richmond is indebted to it: The Well Baby Clinic and the Immunology Clinic at MCV (1939); the Speech and Hearing Clinic (1949); the Senior Center(1959); the Family Literacy Program at Sacred Heart Center(1991); and, in 2000, the Wonders on Wheels bus that visits and provides after-school enrichment programs for the A.V. Norrell and Elizabeth Redd elementary schools which have been identified as having the greatest need for community support. Thanks for the creativity and initiative.

For blessing Blackwell

You could say Geraldine Evans has a green thumb in more ways than one. Over the years she has been known to pull some weeds, in a neighborhood where trouble has a history of coming back.

Evans, 65, is a peaceable woman from Blackwell who would hate to be asked which she prefers most — tending her roses and azaleas or cultivating ties with Richmond police. Both are her pastimes.

If a crime occurs in Blackwell, as they used to daily, chances are Evans knows about it first. And when local authorities promised to rid her neighborhood of ramshackle housing, she kept after them to make sure they would.

Evans is a self-taught expert in the actions of miscreants, innocents, developers and city officials. She has been an active member of the Blackwell Civic Association for more than a decade, rarely absent from public-safety meetings.

Evans has lived on the same street in Blackwell all of her 65 years. She sweeps it herself, every week.

In the last two years, she says, she's seen Blackwell transform. "Everybody has tried to come in and help out," Evans says, citing groups like the Southside Community Development Corp. and programs like Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere and Neighborhoods in Bloom. She praises City Councilwoman Reva Trammell, 8th District, because Trammell "doesn't forget the senior folk and the children."

Even so, Evans reminds there is much work to be done. "I still hear the bullets some nights," coming from handfuls of rotten houses that need to come down, she says. Two of those are across the street from her house. She's also pleading for a grocery store to move back into the neighborhood.

Meantime, Evans is as patient as she is pushy. But her optimism kisses Blackwell every day. Amid her tidy backyard shrubs she waves ample arms in all directions. Evans points out progress when she's not pulling it along. Homes are being built or restored all around her. And the hammering she hears most comes from construction, not crime, she says.

One day soon Evans hopes to bring her 94-year-old mother back to show her a neighborhood spruced up. "Lord, I'll be so happy," she exclaims. "That'll be the shoutin' day."

For rent hikes that could put little guys out of business

It's one of the essential conflicts in economics — landowners vs. the ones who pay rent — and the owners have the advantage. So said the 19th-century British economist David Ricardo.

Locally, perhaps nobody knows this more than Carytown merchants. In recent years, the cost to rent a modest Carytown space — 1,500 square feet or so — has spiked to more than $2,000 a month, and in some cases more.

Those sorts of prices have caused a spate of local specialty retailers to consider moving elsewhere — especially when some landlords have promised to make improvements to the storefronts and sidewalks for years, but haven't.

For this, Style blows Carytown's landlords a fleeting kiss, more cautionary than coy. We feel strongly about our Carytown and want it to stay just the way it is: filled with local retailers who can afford to stay there.

Carytown's mix of chic boutiques, retro shops, bistros and delis make it one of Richmond's most eclectic places to see and be seen. And there are few better places to shop, if only from the window. Where else can you hunt for some used Bob Mould or find the latest Trina Turk, then wash away your woes with a latte?

For saving some gems

One, two and three smooches to the triple entente responsible for improving another gateway to the Fan, the 1600 block of Grace Street at Lombardy.

A year ago, the Fan District Association compiled a list of houses — the worst code offenders — and sent nonthreatening letters to the owners. Not many responded to the complaint-driven organization. Who knows why?

At any rate, the association reported the code violations to the city, especially those on West Grace Street.

In turn, the city inspected the boarded-up houses and stapled citations to plywood front doors. At some sites, whole sections of roof were caved in. Water leaks saturated entire floors. Fire had nearly gutted one building. These were serious offenses, far worse than matching mauve shutters with lavender lattice.

Then JDB Properties went to work. Tom Dickey and Chris Johnson, both 29, finally convinced the neglectful landlords to sell the dilapidated houses. Since last Valentine's Day, the builders have renovated three houses. The first sold to a single family. Another awaits the final strokes of sandpaper and latex. Dickey expects to finish the third — the notoriously shabby house on the corner of Lombardy and West Grace streets — by mid-April, thus eliminating one more bit of blight.

For watching the clocks

Richmond: the city where time stands still.

We're not talking about people who think the Civil War's still going on. We're talking about clocks.

The timepiece at 6th Street Marketplace on Grace Street, for instance, only tells the real time when chance aligns its hands correctly. And at the CVS pharmacy at Ellwood and Thompson, a digital clock announced it was A:P6 or 13:2R for years — until a few months ago, when the display was finally dismantled.

But we'll look past the examples of anachronistic anarchy and smooch the faithful timekeepers of the city. The clocks at Main Street Station and Virginia Commonwealth University's Siegel Center come to mind.

And then there's the clock at the Virginia Science Museum, which gets extra points for effort. True, the 84-year-old timepiece, framed by carved kneeling figures on the pediment facing Broad Street, isn't always accurate. But it's pretty impressive that the original mechanism still works, says museum director Walter R.T. Witschey. He cheerfully clambers up a ladder to the museum's roof to show Style's investigators the gleaming gears behind the clock's face.

"Isn't it gorgeous?" Witschey says. "Well, what a treat! I've never looked inside there before."

Back inside the museum, (above), he points out that all the other large clocks are keeping precise time. As well they should in a building that was once a train station, Witschey notes. He translates the inscription on one plaster wall: "Temporibus inserviendum. We are all the servants of time."

For its ceaseless quest for edginess

A foul-mouthed congratulatory kiss to Punchline, the rascally young alternative that has twice doubled its frequency — from a monthly to biweekly to weekly — since its founding in 1997.

It's not easy being an independently owned startup, but Punchline seems to have kept up, while this year starting a radio show and seemingly finding a more solid following with its often-successful attempts at humor and, of course, the never-ending search for "edge."

Such an "edge" means that it can hurl — ooohh, naughty! — words around, fret less about such bothersome issues as consistent distribution, and come close enough to the line of gossip and potentially libelous innuendo to make things dangerously fun. Hey, it's satire. Those crazy kids!

We hope Punchline will treat Richmond to more locally produced snarky humor, though, rather than nationally syndicated columns, and hold onto Editor-in-Chief Pete Humes, who bares his soul in weekly columns and drives the personality of the magazine. Keep up the good work.

For keeping their part of the Bottom from going silent

Twin smooches to the fearless Patrick Goodsell and Mac McCormack who cashed in their savings three years ago to buy the failing bar Swingers at 12 N. 18th St. in Shockoe Bottom.

At the time it seemed like everything else in the area was closing, they remember, but they believed Swingers could succeed as a hangout for friends and musicians. It did. "We proved everybody wrong," Goodsell says.

The first two years, Goodsell says, they lost money hiring bands but kept trying to support Richmond's musicians. "We fed 'em and put 'em up for the night," he says — some even started working at Swingers to make extra money.

Now business is better, the owners say, and they have a loyal following for their Mediterranean menu and no-cover-charge concerts. "It's mostly just to bring rock 'n' roll back into this town a little bit," McCormack says.

McCormack, who's pursuing a master's degree in sociology and religion, and Goodsell call themselves "poor college kids" but say the bar-owning experience is worth it.

"I'm the chef, the plumber," Goodsell says. "I do everything and he does everything too."

McCormack, 34, is the consummate bartender; always grinning; he flips glasses with effortless precision. A warning — his astounding memory for faces, drink orders and snatches of conversation means there are no anonymous customers at Swingers.

"Dinner is good and the shows are free, and that's the best we can do," Goodsell says. He pours a few boilermakers and raises a glass to Alley Katz owner Chris Gonzales. "Reinventing Shockoe Bottom," Goodsell says.

"Here's to longevity," Gonzales replies, and takes a drink.

For pitching in when Dot's was burned out

The early morning fire that gutted Dot's Back Inn in North Side on Dec. 6 stunned owner Cookie Giannini (below) and her 12 employees. But a positive spirit prevailed in the disaster's wake, thanks to some of Richmond's best musicians, a handful of organizers who quickly put a benefit show together for the Dot's folks on Dec. 15, and a generous community.

Word about the benefit spread, and on the afternoon of the event, Babe's in Carytown was filled to capacity with those who wanted to help. Donations totaled more than $5,700 at the end of the five-hour benefit and Giannini was overwhelmed by the community's response.

"We think of ourselves as a small little restaurant in North Side," she says. "I was just absolutely shocked … to see all the people that really cared."

Bill Zimmerman, one of the benefit's organizers, says members of the Richmond music community deserve the brunt of the thanks for lending their services on short notice. Performers who gave their time and talents included Gayle McGehee and the Nocturnes, the Janet Martin Band, Susan Greenbaum, Page Wilson, Bobby Fleet, the Backscratchers and Amy Henderson.

Donations came from cash contributions, a T-shirt auction and from sales of food donated by area restaurants. The money was split among Dot's employees according to the number of shifts worked. Maybe the amounts distributed did not solve everyone's financial problems long term. But Giannini says the money helped get her employees through a tough holiday season: "For the girls particularly … the benefit enabled them to have Christmas with their families."

For tireless help

Jim York deserves a first-class smooch for his first-class volunteerism, but you'd be hard-pressed to keep up with the 84-year-old long enough to lay it on him.

His volunteer work with four different organizations keeps him on the move all week, every week.

You may find York at William J. Fox Elementary School a few days a week, where he tutors kindergarten and first-grade students, proctors bubble tests, goes on field trips with the third- and fourth-graders and serves on the PTA. "I do it for the kids," he says.

Other days he heads to St. Mary's Hospital to volunteer, as he has for 26 years. York has logged more than 23,000 hours of volunteer service at the hospital; he has earned the Lifetime Volunteer Award. One afternoon a week he treks to the Science Museum, where he's been a presence for eight years. And on the weekends, you can catch a glimpse of him at Second Presbyterian Church, where he is an officer on the board of deacons.

For a man as busy as he is, though, there is not even a hint of haste in York's eyes. He speaks in a warm, relaxed tone, looks you in the eye, and smiles. What keeps him motivated? He says, "Well, I've done it for so long it's just become second nature to me."

For being a first line of defense

The baggage handlers and the security guards get the most attention, but this year the skycaps at Richmond International Airport deserve a smooch too.

They not only make traveling more convenient by carrying luggage from the curb to check-in, they also help make it safer.

Though the skycaps leave the official scanning and inspecting to the security check-in, they form the first line of defense in monitoring suspicious and potentially dangerous bags. The intrepid team of 21 men is the first to greet travelers and the first to examine most luggage before it enters the airport. This, of course, carries extra pressure since Sept. 11.

Like many airport workers, some wondered after 9/11 if their jobs would still be around. They were. "My first day back after September 11th was like going to heaven," one says.

Supervisor Patrick Boulware says that though things were tough following the attacks, the skycaps got right back to doing their jobs. They're now back to their normal routine.

And the skycaps say they aren't fazed by the added pressure for airport security. "Being a skycap is fun, stress-free, and is just a great job," Boulware says.

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