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The Big Smooch

That issue around Valentine’s Day when we spread some love to people, places and things that deserve shoutouts.

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Anybody out there remember their first smooch?

It seems like people rarely talk about their first kiss anymore, not that it comes up in casual conversation. Maybe we’ve moved on to memorializing more adult-rated firsts, and awkward first kisses at summer camp don’t even register anymore.

But c’mon, when it finally happened, it was a big deal. Not to mention an incredibly weird sensation: Someone else’s face (hopefully), up close and attached to yours by the lips! Those warm, fluttery feels deep down.

Sunday is Valentine’s Day and while normally we’re pretty cynical about holidays built on consumerism, especially ones that can feel exclusionary to some, we have to say that in early 2021, after a bleak winter, wallowing in heart-shaped love vibes sounds pretty damn good. Most of us could use it.

Which brings us to Style’s Big Smooch issue, which was first published back in 1998 and has taken different tones over the years, some more tongue-in-cheek than others. It’s the issue where we simply give little shoutouts, or smooches, to people, places and things that make us happy for some reason.

Spring is coming. Some day the isolation and climbing death tolls will stop and people will gather freely again, sans masks. The crowd will roar. And if all the time apart teaches us anything, it should be to remember the under-sung folks in our lives.

And to remember and respect the smooches. – Brent Baldwin

  • Scott Elmquist

Tawnya Pettiford-Wates
Artistic director and founder of the Conciliation Project

With a career that includes performing in the Broadway production of “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow is Enuf,” appearing in the original run of “Twin Peaks” and providing the online voice for Duke’s Mayonnaise, Tawnya Pettiford-Wates doesn’t need to pad her résumé.

But, to Richmond’s benefit, the Virginia Commonwealth University professor of graduate pedagogy in acting and directing – universally known as Dr. T. – hasn’t let a successful performing career stop her from other endeavors. When she came to Richmond from Seattle, she brought the Conciliation Project, a social justice theater company aimed at addressing racial and social inequality, with her. In the pandemic – and the renewed protests since the killing of George Floyd – Pettiford-Wates says the Conciliation Project has been busier than ever hosting a workshop series on Zoom.

“There has not been a month where we have not been doing something about race and reconciliation and white supremacy,” Pettiford-Wates says. “It has expanded our reach.”

In July, she and Deejay Gray, artistic director of TheatreLab, announced that they would merge their companies. A new name and other developments will be announced next month, Pettiford-Wates says. On the directing front, Pettiford-Wates recently helmed Firehouse’s sensational “Passing Strange” in 2019 and last year’s “Fences” at Virginia Repertory Theatre. The latter closed just weeks before the pandemic took hold.

Scuffletown Park - SCOTT ELMQUIST/FILE
  • Scott Elmquist/File
  • Scuffletown Park

City Parks

While the pandemic creates a chain of uncertainties, one thing we can be sure of: Public outdoor spaces and parks, whether large or small, won’t be taken for granted. A big smooch to those who plan, plant, maintain, and respectfully enjoy these places of respite, recreation and renewal.

On almost every weekend since last spring, Dominic Kolantac, a Fan District resident, has cajoled friends to join him regularly in hiking and exploring a Virginia state park whether on the coast, in the mountains or at a destination in between. Richmond’s grand pleasure parks such as Maymont and Forest Hill are filled most weekends with those seeking to let their children romp and run. Smaller oases, such as Libby Hill Park, are contemplative spaces for reading, conversing or practicing yoga. But maybe it’s the pocket parks and green spaces in the middle of certain city blocks, such as Paradise Park and Scuffletown Park, that have been embraced with renewed appreciation as outdoor and communal living – and dining – spaces.

Let’s add a smooch to that embrace.

  • Scott Elmquist/File

Roscoe Burnems
Richmond’s first poet laureate

Near the start of the year, Douglas Powell, aka Roscoe Burnems, was selected as the city’s first poet laureate, a post that runs for two years and carries an honorarium of $4,000 a year, paid by private donors. Previously known for his comedy and rapping, Burnems fell in love with hip-hop as a youth and mostly wrote song lyrics until an English teacher at Henrico High School, Cecily Gardner, spurred his interest in poetry.

After graduation, he started going to local open mics and his career really began at Tuesday Verses. “Even when I was rapping, people thought it came off more like poetry,” he says. With this position, he wants to spread an appreciation for poetry and shed light on the existing poetry organizations in the city, he explains, as well as mix poetry with mediums such as a visual and performance art. “Bridging that gap is really important for me,” he says. “I want to show people that spoken word and poetry slam is an integral part of the poetry community. Page poetry vs. stage poetry have been separate and I want to end that stigma with more events and readings.” Learn more at


Ash and Chess

A hearty smooch to queer and transgender power couple Ashley Molesso and Chess Needham, vibrant makers extraordinaire whose designs celebrate and elevate all things socially just … and the occasional adorable animal. A 2017 trade show in New York kick-started the thriving operation that Ash and Chess are now grateful to call their full-time gig. Over 150 retailers around the globe carry their spirited, cute-as-heck-wares that include: cards, prints, totes, and a bursting-with-fruit-flavor collection of LGBTQ+ stories they wrote and illustrated, “The Gay Agenda: a Modern Queer History & Handbook.” They’ve also done big-shot work for companies such as Forever 21 and Belletrist, a book club run by actress Emma Roberts and Karah Preiss. All of this explains why they’re kinda Insta-famous now with thousands of adoring followers.

Locally, you can snag their stuff at Mongrel and Quirk Hotel. They can also arrange local pickup of website purchases at their studio, based out of Studio 23. 

“I always wanted our art to have a big audience so we’d have a platform to spread information on issues that we feel are important,” Molesso says. “Being able to do that through our art means a lot.”

  • photo credit: Shawn Brackbill and Tamir Kalifa
  • Lonnie Holley and Matthew E. White

“Broken Mirror: a Selfie Reflection”
Upcoming album by Lonnie Holley and Matthew E. White


Back in 2019, if you were lucky enough to catch Alabama visual artist and musician Lonnie Holley’s show at the Leslie Cheek Theater at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, then you witnessed a remarkable evening of unrehearsed music featuring house musicians from the local Spacebomb label backing Holley on keyboard, sounding like a new fangled, dreamy version of Sun Ra were he a folk-jazz artist. Now the two are combining for an upcoming, five-song album that will be released April 9 through Spacebomb records and Jagjaguwar. If you’re a fan of electric Miles Davis, like “On the Corner,” you’ll want to check it out. The searing instrumental music was recorded back in November 2018 by White at Richmond’s Montrose Recording, then shelved. Now Holley, 70, has recorded first-take vocals over certain tracks using his intuitive prowess to sing of “trips into space and troubles with social media, of the need to reconnect with out basic humanity and to disconnect from the baseness of it,” according to a release. It’s high-power, interstellar stuff that will draw some attention when it’s released. As Holley says: “We are in a time where we need healing. We are in a time where we need truth. I think that’s what this music is all about.” A big smooch to these two spiritually inclined Southern music collaborators for a heady trip of an album.


Households with school-age children

As the pandemic enters a second year, parenting – and grandparenting – continues to be one of the most important and difficult challenges for thousands of households. While no two homes are alike, they all share the reality of trying to keep children physically and mentally healthy. But the added challenges of providing environments conducive to teaching, learning and structured education are difficult, to say the least.

The times have also required real physical lifestyle changes, living arrangements and technological adjustments. All of this is complicated with changing schedules and requirements from respective school systems and the fact that many parents, grandparents or caregivers are working from home. So here’s a smooch to those who continue to mine deep reserves of flexibility, patience, ingenuity and concern each day – especially school days. You know who you are and what you and those within your home continue to do. Hats off to you! 

  • Scott Elmquist

Masons’ Hall
1807 E. Franklin St.

Who knew? The most sparkling building in Shockoe Bottom is one of the city’s most ancient. Masons’ Hall was built in 1785 and is the oldest active Masonic lodge in the Western Hemisphere. The once frayed exterior of the classical two-story frame structure has recently been painted. This caps a complex seven-year stabilization and restoration program that involved a phalanx of preservationists, philanthropists, architects, engineers, craftspeople and, of course members of the lodge, who made possible shoring up 18th century beams, replacing the roof, replastering walls, rebuilding windows, researching colors and applying the paint. A big smooch – assuming the paint is dry – goes to the Masons’ Hall, the Historic Richmond and Matthew and Genevieve Mezzanotte foundations, as well as Marianne and Kerry Svoboda of Richmond, and the team of talented and generous craftspeople and painters.

Now, as cyclists, pedestrians and motorists traverse the recently cobblestone-paved stretch of the Capital Trail that runs over East Franklin and past Masons’ Hall, they might contemplate that Edmund Randolph, our nation’s first attorney general, Chief Justice John Marshall, the Marquis de Lafayette, Elizabeth Poe, the actress mother of Edgar Allan Poe, and the Prince of Wales, a future King Edward VII of England, each looked out from that stalwart old edifice. 

  • Green Leaf Medical of Virginia

Green Leaf Medical of Virginia
Medical cannabis health center

Yes, Virginia, medical marijuana is finally here.

At 2804 Decatur St. near Manchester, Green Leaf, or gLeaf, offers an upscale retail operation attached to its 82,000-square-foot production facility. Registered patients check in downstairs then go upstairs and shop for vapes with names like Martian Monkey, Star Haze and Topanga Canyon or edibles such as medicated chews and milk chocolate squares, and concentrates such as bubble hash and rosins, with infused drinks to come. The health benefits are too many to list here and while the prices may strike some as high, at least you don’t have to deal with the paranoia of engaging in illegal activity. Meanwhile Democrats are currently trying to push through full legalization for recreational cannabis, another positive step.

Green Leaf Chief Executive Philip Goldberg tells Style it completed 10,000 patient transactions since opening in late November, with 2,500 occurring through home delivery. The company has 115 employees and will remain in hiring mode, he says, as it builds out and staff the five new dispensaries planned in the next year. The second dispensary location has been identified in Short Pump, he says, and “upon approval from the Board of Pharmacy, we will offer drive-thru at this new dispensary location.”

  • photo courtesy Megan Rhyne

Megan Rhyne
Executive Director of Virginia Coalition for Open Government

Government transparency means we have the right to know what our public officials are up to – something that the pandemic has made more difficult. It forced many local governments to scramble to provide transparency with remote meetings. Others used the virus as a pretense for limiting access. Throughout the past year, the Virginia Coalition for Open Government has worked to make sure access isn’t different based on where someone lives in Virginia. Much of that work has happened in Richmond, where legislators work to roll back or increase transparency every year in the General Assembly. In addition to putting in long hours working with legislators, Executive Director Megan Rhyne is always available for questions on Virginia government transparency, including recent uncertainty around the mandate that Richmond Public School Superintendent Jason Kamras’ contract negotiations stay secret.

Michael Morisy, cofounder of the Boston-based Freedom of Information platform MuckRock, says Rhyne and the coalition have been important allies.

“Whether it’s keeping tabs of legislation that would steamroll the public’s right to know or answering questions about the finer points of access arcania, Virginia and transparency fans everywhere are lucky to have her,” he says.

  • Scott Elmquist

Regina Boone and Sandra Sellars
Photographers, Richmond Free Press

During the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, Regina Boone and Sandra Sellars, two veteran photographers from the Richmond Free Press, worked tirelessly to document Richmond’s historic summer. From being caught in tense tear-gas-filled moments to standing in a torrential downpour to document the removal of the Stonewall Jackson statue, the pair was seemingly everywhere. They marched miles and miles with protesters, dodged gun-toting extremists and slept in their cars. They both lost a significant amount of camera gear in the Stonewall rainstorm, but they never missed a beat. So, hats off to the dedicated duo who knew where to be and most importantly, how to document the big and small moments.

  • Peter McElhinney

Michael Hawkins

Michael Hawkins is always at the heart of the music. The Brotherhood quartet assembles a generational cross-section of Richmond jazz players including pianist Weldon Hill, James “Saxsmo” Gates and drummer Billy Williams. But Hawkins is just as likely to be found in the lineup of a visiting headliner at one of the Jazz Society events, or in the lineup for some Virginia Commonwealth University undergraduate’s student recital. A harmonically advanced, rhythmically adept player, Hawkins has played behind lot of jazz greats, notably a long membership in pianist Cyrus Chestnut’s band. The instrument’s contribution burrows so deep in the mix that it is a cliché that during a bass solo, people start talking as if the music had stopped. And yet without the bass, the bottom drops out. Keeping things grounded while shinier instruments take flight, Hawkins’ unpretentious artistry forms an invaluable layer in the bedrock of the local scene.

Actor Billy Christopher Maupin in a one-man version of the Oscar Wilde classic “A Portrait of Dorian Gray” at the Firehouse Theatre. - SCOTT ELMQUIST/FILE
  • Scott Elmquist/File
  • Actor Billy Christopher Maupin in a one-man version of the Oscar Wilde classic “A Portrait of Dorian Gray” at the Firehouse Theatre.

Theater scene

Though the pandemic has largely upended the local theater scene, we remember it and we miss it. We can’t wait to grab an early dinner, settle into a happy-go-lucky musical or some cerebral drama, then pick the whole thing apart over cocktails at a cozy bar.

It will be back. Someday.

In the meantime, a daring few have staged works during the pandemic, starting in June with Billy Christopher Maupin’s one-man “A Portrait of Dorian Gray” at the Firehouse with maximum audience of six. Since then, we’ve had a smattering of reduced audience shows and theater livestreams – including “Krapp’s Last Tape” at the Firehouse and “This Bitter Earth” at Richmond Triangle Players, which are currently playing. These offerings can hold us over until things return to normal. But for the rest of the theater community, know that we love you, and we haven’t forgotten about you. We’ll see you in the theater when it’s time.

AlterNatives Boutique owner Guadalupe Ramirez - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • AlterNatives Boutique owner Guadalupe Ramirez

AlterNatives Boutique
3320 W. Cary St.

A fire in Guadalupe Ramirez’s AlterNatives Boutique in 2007 destroyed everything but rebuilding was the only option. Born in Guatemala, Ramirez has operated the store as a fair-trade operation to promote the work of indigenous artists and designers in Guatemala, Ecuador and Arizona. Now, as the store on Cary Street looks as though it’s about to be swallowed by a ballooning real estate market, a GoFundMe page is asking for help to meet an expected rent increase.

“We have loved being in Carytown for over 20 years,” Ramirez says on the fundraising page, adding, “We have formed long-lasting relationships with our awesome customers and the fantastic RVA community.”

Two weeks into the fundraiser, the shop is more than halfway past its fundraising goal of $25,000. Masked shoppers can visit in person, browse or catch Instagram Live inventory showcases at @alternativesboutique.

A best wishes smooch to this Carytown mainstay.


Melody C. Roscher
Filmmaker and producer

If you squint hard enough, you can find silver linings to the pandemic. One of them is that artists have been leaving New York – or wherever – and returning to Virginia, bringing with them a wealth of talent. Such is the case with Melody Roscher, a film writer and director who is one half of the production team, the Wonder Club, with Craig Shilowich (“Marriage Story”). Rocher was raised in Fulton Hill and Chesterfield, the biracial daughter of two local musicians. She’s now back in Fulton Hill working on the feature-length follow-up to a recent short, “White Wedding,” which was in this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and was shot at the Virginia House in Windsor Farms.

“White Wedding”
  • “White Wedding”

We’ve been hearing about Rocher for years. She produced the great 2016 indie film “Christine” starring Rebecca Hall and also worked on the popular Showtime series, “Jinx: the Life and Times of Richard Durst.” She also tells us she has a musical film she wrote with actor and comedian Fred Armisen (“Portlandia”) waiting in the wings, hoping to film in Germany. “People now realize they can move around. We don’t all need to stand around the same campfires in Los Angeles, New York or Atlanta,” she says.

Having her back from Brooklyn and living full time in Richmond is exciting, smooch-worthy news for the local film community.

  • Scott Elmquist/File

The Lee monument/ Marcus-David Peters Circle

It may be surrounded by fencing for its likely removal, but no one can take away the symbolic power of Richmond’s own Berlin Wall. The Lee monument, a sculpture that has symbolized oppression for so many, was re-purposed last year in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd. It now stands as a place of reflection and remembrance for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Unofficially renamed Marcus-David Peters Circle by protesters for a 24-year-old high school teacher killed by police in 2018 while he was experiencing a mental health episode, this public space is where our aspirations for society and the hang ups of reality continue to meet in real time. It became the site of memorial installations, musical performances, pickup basketball games and a community garden. It’s also where peaceful protesters were tear gassed by police in June, causing Mayor Levar Stoney to apologize at the site to an angry crowd the following day.

Yes, it graced the cover of National Geographic. Yes, The New York Times Style Magazine called it the greatest piece of American protest art since World War II. But more importantly, it’s a symbol that Richmond can make true, lasting progress in our time.

And while we have no say in the matter, we do hope that the graffiti-covered pedestal will be displayed somewhere in some fashion. A summer of direct action leading to change is worth commemorating.

Melody Short. Rasheeda Creighton and Kelli Lemon formed the Jackson Ward Collective to help connect Black business owners to each other and resources like workshops, mentorships and networking events. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Melody Short. Rasheeda Creighton and Kelli Lemon formed the Jackson Ward Collective to help connect Black business owners to each other and resources like workshops, mentorships and networking events.

The Jackson Ward Collective

Once called the Harlem of the South, Jackson Ward cultivated some of the brightest Black minds and trailblazing businesses of the early 20th century. And today that vibe continues thanks to Rasheeda Creighton, Kelli Lemon and Melody Short. Each a successful, Black business owner in her own right, they’ve joined forces spreading the love to the community by way of the Jackson Ward Collective. Formed in the fall of last year, the collective is now 160 members strong and connects Black business owners to each other and resources like workshops, mentorships and networking events.

“I love that there’s a blueprint for success in this neighborhood,” Short says. “We’re simply continuing the work of our ancestors and celebrating the greatness of who we are and what we are built of.” Adds Lemon: “We’re finally allowed to be unapologetically Black about what we’re doing, and that just makes my heart feel good.”

It’s a place where aspiring entrepreneurs might seek feedback on fresh ideas and established folks push past plateaus and learn how to navigate pesky things like city codes and permits. The founders’ collective skill set is a juggernaut that encompasses everything from entertainment and marketing, to law and education – these ladies have legit got your back: “We all know that collaboration and community are good things, but when you experience it and it takes over – it’s a transformational experience,” Short says.

  • VCU Libraries

Ray Bonis
Senior research associate, Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries

With nearly three decades of experience in special collections and archives at VCU’s James Branch Cabell Library, Ray Bonis can usually either field your Richmond history question or knows where to look. In short, he’s a journalist’s secret weapon.

Bonis, whose current title is senior research associate (“You’ve been there too long when they put ‘senior’ in the title,” he jokes), assists researchers and helps collect and process the items that are stored in the library’s archive. He came to the university in 1982 as a student and studied mass communications but realized that journalism wasn’t a good fit. Instead, Bonis began working at Cabell in 1989, eventually gravitating to the library’s special collections. He’s since collaborated on a couple of books, including a pictorial history of VCU and “Greetings from Richmond” about Richmond postcards from 1900 to 1930. He also runs the Richmond history blog The Shockoe Examiner, which he founded in 2009 with the late Richmond planner and preservationist T. Tyler Potterfield; he now runs the blog with architectural historian Selden Richardson.

At present, Bonis is curating an online exhibit about the school’s early days titled “VCU: Transition to a New University, 1968-1970.” The exhibit will go live in April.

  • Scott Elmquist

Ukrop’s Market Hall
7250 Patterson Ave.

Does it get any more Richmond than Ukrop’s?

When the River City’s homegrown grocery empire sold to Martin’s parent company Ahold USA for $140 million in 2010, many Richmonders worried it was the last they’d see of their beloved rainbow cookies, fried chicken and butter stars. As it turns out, they just had to wait a decade for the grocer’s return.

In December, Ukrop’s Market Hall opened its doors across the street from one of its former locations at Patterson Avenue and Horsepen Road, and the response has been overwhelming. During peak hours, the line for fried chicken reliably extends outside of the building.

Yes, you still can purchase many Ukrop’s food products at other grocery chains. But there’s just something nostalgic about going to a cathedral dedicated to Ukrop’s – literally a repurposed church – to get your breakfast pizza fix. It’s all there waiting for you: White House rolls, potato wedges, cakes from Dot’s Pastry shop. And, in keeping with Ukrop’s tradition, it’s not open on Sundays, and, no, you can’t order alcohol.

Necole Sykes, owner of Cole’s Plants. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Necole Sykes, owner of Cole’s Plants.

Cole’s Plants on Church Hill
1003 N. 25th St.

Everybody has a green thumb according to Necole Sykes, owner of Cole’s Plants.

This one-of-a-kind, Black-owned and operated plant boutique blossomed in December in Church Hill and immediately lit up social media. Its Facebook and Instagram pages show nothing but smiles from proud new plant parents beaming from behind their masks.

“You’ve gotta start with one though, don’t overwhelm yourself with a house of plants” Sykes says. “And if you kill it, it’s not a big deal. I still occasionally kill them.” Often folks simply choose the wrong plant for their space according to this expert. “You’ve got to understand the light in your house and go from there.”

Sykes grew up around plants and credits her Dad’s love of all things green with opening the shop. Unexpected pandemic downtime allowed them time to flesh out details of a project after his retirement and from there, things took off. 

So here’s a big green smooch to this shop and its ambience that is all encompassing – truly a sensory smorgasbord of sight, smell and downright good vibes. Says Sikes: “It’s not just beautiful here. I promise you’ll remember your experience.”