Best of C-VILLE 2017: Services

Best Nonprofit: Charlottesville Albemarle SPCA (Photo: Natalie Jacobsen)

What’s the difference between a “want” and a “need”? Not much, when it comes to this category. From a haircut or a car repair to a place to rest your head, there are a lot of ways in which you ask for a helping hand in this town. Here are the best spots for a job well done.


Heather Griffith

Runner-up: Jordan Hague

Honorable mention: Paul McArtor

Buying a home for the first time is a daunting prospect, so it can help to have a mentor who understands. Readers say Heather Griffith is the one to guide them through the process. She specializes in helping newbies, whether they’re unfamiliar with the city of Charlottesville or to the home-buying process as a whole. And from their gushing online reviews, the newbies are grateful for the calm, enthusiastic guidance. Meanwhile, Jordan Hague brings a flipper’s perspective and business acumen from past employment with Dell Inc. to home-buying negotiations.


Nest Realty

Runner-up: Montague, Miller & Co.

Honorable mention: Roy Wheeler Realty Co.

For those new to the city (and overwhelmed by its many neighborhoods, nooks and attractions), the Nest Realty website serves as a comprehensive introduction to Charlottesville: Video tour everything from the Downtown Mall to sprawling farmland, or sink your teeth into the stats of the Charlottesville real estate market with carefully curated graphs and charts. The site provides a window into the complexities of the local home-buying scene. Nest helps you navigate. Meanwhile, runner-up Montague, Miller & Co. boasts 78 real estate agents ready to assist you in finding your dream house.


Southern Development

Runner-up: Stanley Martin Homes

Honorable mention: Alexander Nicholson

Hire local. That’s the unofficial motto of Southern Development, which in 2015, said that about three quarters of its employees were area contractors who had been with the company for the better part of a decade. That kind of consistency inspires loyalty, and this local dedication (and the fact that SD provides services as both a developer and a homebuilder) means that Southern Development has an edge on the competition. Meanwhile, with 50 years of experience and offices across Virginia and Maryland, Stanley Martin Homes comes in as a reliable runner-up.


Town & Country Services

Runner-up: J.W. Townsend Landscapes

Honorable mention: D & D Lawn Care

Town & Country Services goes big —with sports turf and grounds management—and then it goes home (to your home). From weed management to aerification to goose control to topdressing, the 44-year-old business gets your vote for specialty landscape requests. In second place, J.W. Townsend Landscapes offers expert help in everything from maintaining native wildflower meadows to container gardening.


Word on the street

Search for Fitzgerald’s Tires on Instagram and there are only a handful of photos that aren’t portraits of folks in front of the Belmont spot’s famed wall. It’s been there four years now, after conceptual word artist Richard Montoya approached the director of the Charlottesville Mural Project. Montoya often uses text-based imagery in his work to produce visual plays on words, and he had an idea.

“‘Charlottesville’ is one of those words I wanted to explore and see what I could find,” Montoya says. “In this case I extracted letters, as I do in some of my work, and explored adding new words.” Thus “I LOVE CHARLOTTESVILLE A LOT,” punctuated by tires for each O, which Montoya implemented after settling on the mural’s auto-related location, came about. We’ll never tire of it.


Airport Road Auto Center

Runner-up: Bob’s Wheel Alignment

Honorable mention: Settle Tire

It’s the little things that make you feel like a business actually cares about you and your bottom dollar, like having a shuttle van available to take you to work while your car is being worked on. Airport Road Auto Center has a fleet of six shuttles to help soothe the inconvenience of being without your vehicle, and offers free coffee and other amenities in its lobby if you’d rather wait while the experts work. In second place, Bob’s specializes in precise wheel alignments and fulfilling state inspections.


Interior Concepts

Runner-up: Linden Lane Interiors

Honorable mention: Faulconer Design

Interior Concepts’ four-step design process looks like this: Meet, research, design, implement. And each of these steps involves the customer, from helping to draft the initial proposal to reviewing a PowerPoint presentation of the finalized design. Giving customers that much of a say in the final product makes this interior design office a reader favorite. In second place, Linden Lane Interiors sticks with its motto to design spaces that are accessible rather than intimidating.


Tucker Griffin Barnes

Runner-up: Legal Aid Justice Center

Honorable mention: McGuireWoods

Attentive care is the focus at Tucker Griffin Barnes, seen in everything from the office’s kids’ play area (so you can meet with your attorney uninterrupted) to a live chat option on its website. Readers turn to the multi-service firm for everything from real estate matters and traffic violations to adoption and Social Security claims. In second place, Legal Aid Justice Center is a crucial provider of free legal services to the most vulnerable among us, helping with individual representation, community organizing and even media relations.


Bill Tucker

Runner-up: Mary Susan Payne

Honorable mention: Addison Barnhardt

One of Tucker Griffin Barnes’ founding partners, Bill Tucker takes the top prize this year with more than 40 years of experience in real estate law, making him one of the area’s leading experts. In fact, he’s also the founder of Charlottesville Settlement Company, central Virginia’s largest settlement and title insurance company, so it’s no wonder readers keep turning to Tucker for help. In second place, Mary Susan Payne boasts more than three decades of law experience, including positions on the Charlottesville School Board and the Charlottesville/Albemarle Bar Association.

Richard Walker, who’s been a crossing guard at Buford Middle School for 12 years, puts safety first. Photo: Eze Amos

Walk this way

Buford Middle School crossing guard takes safety to the streets

Richard Walker is worried about the kids. But it’s nothing that the kids have done, says the Buford Middle School crossing guard, who spiritedly directs traffic at the crosswalk at the corner of Cherry Avenue and 10th Street SW. It’s the drivers who neglect to follow the 25mph school zone speed limit and fail to pay attention when they’re zooming through the crosswalk.

That’s why he takes his job so seriously. No kid is going to get hurt on his watch, he says.

“This is a very busy street and you’ve gotta keep your eyes open,” Walker, 62, says. “What’s it going to take for people to stop? Does someone have to get hit? People think I’m being mean, but I’m not going to apologize for doing my job.”

His job is to keep the kids safe when they cross the street before and after school. That’s why, for the past 12 years, he’s stood at that crosswalk from 7:45 to 9am and from 1 to 3:45pm every school day, rain, snow or shine, in his crisp white shirt with Charlottesville Guard patches on the sleeves, a fluorescent yellow vest and matching gloves. Drivers may think he’s all business, but the kids know otherwise. Another part of the job, Walker says, is to greet the kids, many of whom he knows by name, with warmth. “You never know what’s going on at home,” he says. “Your smile might be the only one they see all day.”

When he’s away for a bit, the kids “give him the third degree” when he returns, he says with a laugh, asking him where he’s been, if he’s doing okay. On particularly hot days, parents and neighborhood folk often stop to give him a bottle of water or a cold soda. These small gestures of appreciation go a long way for Walker—they make his day.

Before completing the crossing guard training with the Charlottesville Police Department traffic unit, Walker worked security at UVA hospital for more than 26 years, a job he held while commuting to and from college in Lynchburg. He says he learned the art of paying attention during his time in the U.S. Army. While stationed in West Germany, he was responsible for guarding the officer who carried around the cash to pay the troops on payday.

Every year, the kids ask Walker if he’ll be back in the fall, and every year, he tells them, “two more years.” He often thinks about retiring, but he loves the job, so he always comes back. “The hard part about this,” he says with a sigh and a wistful smile, “is that the kids leave.”


UVA Community Credit Union

Runner-up: BB&T

Honorable mention: Wells Fargo

Getting your first bank account can be a confusing, scary endeavor—even as an adult. But again this year readers turn to UVA Community Credit Union, which makes it a little less intimidating from the get-go, with tools like a video series and a summer camp at Piedmont Virginia Community College, both designed to improve kids’ financial literacy. Founded in 1954, the bank now boasts more than 70,000 members. In second place, BB&T remains a trusted national presence with five locations in the Charlottesville area.


UVA Community Credit Union

Runner-up: Crown Mortgage

Honorable mention: First Heritage Mortgage

Who enjoys paying their mortgage? Nobody, that’s who, because it’s an expensive and terrifying commitment. But readers say to ease the fear, they turn to UVA Community Credit Union, which handles the task with features like Helping Hand Homeownership, a program that guides first-time homebuyers, service employees and veterans through the process of buying a house. Another home-grown home loan specialist, Crown Mortgage, comes in second.


All Things Pawssible

Runner-up: The Dogg House

Honorable mention: Wakefield Kennel

The All Things Pawssible Bed & Biscuit isn’t open to just anyone: Overnight tenants must attend at least one daycare session at the dog-care center per month. This exclusivity means that the dogs will have established a relationship with their All Things Pawssible caretakers, truly making it a home away from home. With everything from a day of outdoor playtime to classical music that lulls them to sleep, this kennel feels less like a last resort and more like a luxury vacation. In second place, the Dogg House offers professional grooming and a special senior care package for older dogs.


Georgetown Veterinary Hospital

Runner-up: Old Dominion Animal Hospital

Honorable mention: Monticello Animal Hospital

Pets act as friends, confidants and sometimes even children, so seeing them sick or injured is, to put it simply, scary. But Georgetown Vet does its best to alleviate the jitters with same-day pre-surgical blood work for any possible bad reactions to anesthesia. In the surgery suite, the docs tackle everything from spaying and neutering to serious medical issues, making Georgetown a trusted destination for sick loved ones of the furry variety. In second place, Old Dominion Animal Hospital offers tools like an online animal health portal that can help to diagnose what might be troubling your pet.

Doug Brooks’ Southern drawl lends a personal touch to the corner of Water and Third streets. Photo: Amy Jackson

Safety measures

Walk this way, talk that way

The crosswalk, known for its function as a public safety device with flashing signals, broad thoroughfare and radar blip summons, is not typically considered a source of entertainment. Most crosswalks are absorbed into the routine of everyday life without note, as they are literally everywhere.

“All traffic signals in the city, except Route 250 and Hydraulic/High and First /250 and the firehouse have at least one crosswalk,” says city Traffic Signal Supervisor Gisela O’Donnell. But one intersection in town, at Water Street and Third Street SE, is different —and it’s become something of a Charlottesville insider obsession.

Upon approach to the cobbled junction, all seems ordinary. You’re offered the instructional button marked with arrows. Press it, wait for permission to proceed and the backwards countdown begins at 14. Then comes The Voice. It’s a real person’s voice—male with a Southern accent so distinct it sticks in the brain and provokes imitation: “Wawter Street. Sigh-n o-won to cross Wawter Street.”

Not since The Beatles’ famous stroll across Abbey Road in 1969 has a street crossing inspired such curiosity (we’re guessing). Whose voice is it? And why here?

After no fewer than 10 emails and as many phone calls, the quest to track down the source leads to Street Operations Supervisor Steve Mays, who says he’s been asked many times whether the voice is his.

“It must be some country boy,” he says laughing, but it’s not him. He points us back to O’Donnell, who gives us a name.

“The voice is a traffic department employee named Doug,” she says. “We had to replace a failed button, which we had to program. Otherwise they come from the factory preprogrammed with the generic voice.”

A call to Traffic Technician Doug Brooks confirms that he is indeed The Voice. Brooks says when the system was purchased roughly seven years ago, he got the job of recording the message “because no one else wanted to.” And, he reveals, that’s not the only one. Brooks says there was also a need to reprogram (using his voice) at the corner of Arlington Boulevard and Millmont Street.

The Charlottesville native isn’t totally surprised to learn he has a cult following. “A traffic engineer here told me once, ‘Everybody likes that.’ Why does everybody like that?,” he wonders. Then answers, “Maybe because it’s personal.”


Tandem Friends School

Runner-up: St. Anne’s-Belfield School

Honorable mention: The Covenant School

There are lots of advantages to going to a smaller school. It’s easier to pick yourself out in class photographs, for one. For another, pupils enjoy a low student-to-teacher ratio, like the one at Tandem Friends School: six students for every teacher. That means that each kid gets the kind of personalized attention that makes Tandem Friends the top-voted private school for the third year in a row. In second place, St. Anne’s- Belfield School has impressive extracurricular credentials such as more than 45 sports teams available for students to join.


Bright Beginnings

Runner-up: Mountaintop Montessori

Honorable mention: Peabody School

Bright Beginnings got its start in the home of Kathe Petchel, a new mom and former public school teacher, with just nine students enrolled. Thirty-three years later, the school has three locations, its highest-ever enrollment and your vote for the best preschool, thanks to its progressive curriculum that combines the teachings of Maria Montessori with psychologists David Elkind, Erik Erikson, Jean Piaget and Abraham Maslow. Mountaintop Montessori takes the silver with its own 30-plus years of fostering kids’ curiosity, joy and responsibility in our area.


Moxie Hair & Body Lounge

Runner-up: Hair Cuttery

Honorable mention: The Honeycomb

What is moxie? It’s verve, nerve and know-how. And, this year, it’s also readers’ top pick for hair salon. The Preston Avenue spot is your first stop for everything from a new ’do to a deep-cleansing facial. Six locations give runner-up Hair Cuttery an edge on the competish, not to mention its budget-friendly menu of services.


Neroli Spa & Beauty Lounge

Runner-up: Serenity Nails & Spa

Honorable mention: Ann’s Nails

You know what separates us from the animals? It isn’t that we create art, or that we cook our food. It’s manicures. It’s experiencing the pleasure of walking into a luxurious environment and having someone treat your digits to an hour of pampering: A papaya enzyme mask exfoliates the skin, paraffin wax locks in moisture and hot stones roll over the skin for the ultimate relaxation experience. (Repeat on feet.) For second place, readers say, “Serenity now!” and head to the Preston Avenue spa for a mani, pedi or gel treatment.

Each of Pro Re Nata’s new crates cost $1,600, plus $900 for shipping from Norfolk. But that’s still about half the cost of lumber for the same job. Photo: Stephen Barling


Green shipping

An environmentally friendly brew spot goes viral

Well, it sure doesn’t look like a pharmacy. But the shipping containers-turned-bar at Pro Re Nata Farm Brewery—dubbed The Farmacy—may be a cure for what ales you. It’s certainly been a boon for the brew business.

Inspired by a show on the History channel, owner John Shoeb got curious about using shipping containers for the bar at his Crozet brewery. He drew up some plans (or rather, drew boxes on Jenga blocks and stacked them together), hired a team and opened the structure a mere four months later. The finished building is two floors, each with its own bar that features brews not offered in the brewery’s tasting room. A fully air-conditioned space on the first floor provides an area for private events.

Within a few months, the crate structure has garnered a lot of attention.

“Cars will just pull into the parking lot and take pictures of it, and walk back there and ask us questions about it,” says Pro Re Nata’s general manager, Brian Combs. “Before we even began construction on it, we knew there was going to be an interest level from the public.” Combs made videos about the crates’ construction, which went viral and quickly caught the attention of electric car giant Tesla. The company offered the brewery four car chargers for free, two Tesla-specific and two universal. Combs says this makes the brewery a destination for electric car owners.

“So you can charge the car, for free, and come in and have a beer,” Combs says. “We are a new brewery. We’re small, but we like to think of ourselves as progressive.”


Neroli Spa & Beauty Lounge

Runner-up: AquaFloat

Honorable mention: The Brow House

If the name Michele Pelafas doesn’t mean anything to you right now, it likely will by the time you leave. It was Pelafas, along with Neroli owner Suzanne Owens, who designed the spa. Awash in cream and gray, with subtle gold accents, the space is elegant, relaxing and upscale—a trademark look of Pelafas’, whose CV also includes designing Milk & Honey (Whole Foods’ spa in Boston), Los Angeles’ Luxe Nail & Spa Boutique and the Four Seasons Hotel salon and spa in Baltimore. Neroli ups the local spa game with a selection of treatments from anti-aging peels to targeted tighteners. AquaFloat takes second place with saunas, massages and sensory deprivation tanks.


Keswick Hall

Runner-up: Graduate Charlottesville

Honorable mention: Omni Hotel

Keswick Hall was famously brought back to life by Sir Bernard Ashley (the widower of designer Laura Ashley, who died in 1985) in the 1990s following a string of unfortunate events (multiple owners, disrepair, neglect). He invested $25 million into the property, increased the number of guest rooms to 48, employed Arnold Palmer to design the golf course and created a clubhouse for golfers. Today it stands as a monument to good taste and elbow grease and is your favorite spot for a getaway. In second place is the UVA-adjacent Graduate Hotel, with its quirky interior style and rooftop bar with views down West Main Street.


Clifton Inn

Runner-up: Oakhurst Inn

Honorable mention: South Street Inn

There’s just nothing like a classic Virginia inn—and, readers say, there’s really nothing like Clifton. Once belonging to the grandfather of Thomas Jefferson’s son-in-law, Thomas Mann Randolph Jr., the inn’s recorded history begins in 1735. But it isn’t until 1795 that its first building—a law office for Randolph—was built. Today, the office (and a few other historic buildings on the property) serve as guest rooms, in addition to those in the main house, giving visitors a modern-day destination with Old Dominion roots. Near the university, runner-up Oakhurst Inn is in a picturesque residential area, offering 27 smartly appointed rooms, free yoga classes for guests and a popular café locals visit for Sunday brunch.


VMDO Architects

Runner-up: Wolf Ackerman

Honorable mention: Alloy Workshop

Have you ever walked through the sunshine-flooded halls of Western Albemarle High School’s Environmental Studies Academy or stepped between the towering columns to enter John Paul Jones Arena? If so, you’ve seen the work of VMDO, a Charlottesville-based architectural design firm that specializes in academic buildings from K-12 to higher ed. Originally founded by a UVA professor, VMDO’s work can be seen in Virginia—at UVA, Virginia Commonwealth University, Liberty University and William & Mary—and beyond. Meanwhile, runner-up Wolf Ackerman takes a modern approach in both residential and commercial design projects.


Charlottesville Albemarle SPCA

Runner-up: Sexual Assault Resource Agency

Honorable mention: Jefferson Area Board for Aging

It’s hard to be sad when you’re holding a kitten. That’s why the Charlottesville Albemarle SPCA, readers say, is the place to head when you’re having a bad day. It’s open seven days a week, six hours a day for you to pet and play with fuzzy, lovable (and, most importantly, adoptable) dogs and cats. And if you can’t come to the animals, they can to come to you. The CASPCA’s Compassionate Care-A-Van travels around the area to unite friendly animals with potential adopters. Another nonprofit, the Sexual Assault Resource Agency, offers free services to all survivors of sexual violence, from a 24-hour crisis hotline to therapeutic camps for young victims.

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