Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

clark-fcnpIn this age of technological change, I offer tribute to some old-school Arlington businesses that help us preserve past valuables.

Deemarie Hunter and her husband Lee Tang own the 24-hour Clock and Watch Works on Wilson Blvd. at N. Florida St. (No, it’s not open 24-hours.) I once asked Tang to bring back to life a century-old gold-eagle-bedecked wall clock celebrating George Washington’s Mount Vernon. He applied ye old honest craftsmanship and then taught me how to wind it. When I later had trouble, he drove to my house and re-demonstrated the trick.

Kevork Tchalekian runs Sam Torrey Shoe Service on Lee Highway at George Mason Dr. In this throw-away age, he helps customers decide whether leather goods (like my sentimental gem of a briefcase) are worth the labor and expense to refurbish. Tchalekian and crew give me instant service when I bring a new pair of shoes for heel plates. For shines and other longer-term jobs, he smartly requires payment in advance.

Wendy MacCallum and Heather Sheire two years ago opened “Livin’ the Pie Life” at 2166 N. Glebe Rd., near Lee Highway. Veterans of farmer’s markets, they and staff bake all goods on the premises same-day.

The cherry, apple caramel, mincemeat, brown butter coconut and boozy toasted pecan pies are offered in small or full-size. Add chocolate cakes, scones, cinnamon buns and cookies.

For balanced dieters, there’s savory quiches and chicken pies, fresh salads and gourmet coffee — ingestible at the kitchen’s few tables. The pastries sell out quickly, MacCallum told me. She plows profits back into the steaming-hot business.

The merchant who deals with perhaps the most drastic technological disruption is David Downey of Trans Video, run out of his home at Pershing Dr. near Washington Blvd. I turned to him when passage of time reminded me I needed to digitize my four-decade-plus-old reel-to-reel tapes.

Back in high school and college I recorded lots of commercial music, saving money by borrowing LPs from dorm-mates. Now I can hear that music on Alexa and Sirius XM Radio. But a few selections are personal, such as a unique tape of my youth rock band and a pal’s 1971 impersonation of a deejay.

I brought them to Trans Video’s higgledy-piggledy two-room workshop crowded with old tape recorders, specially modified projectors for Super 8 and 16mm film transfers, hard drives and McIntosh computers to digitize for final cuts.

Downey, who came to Arlington in the early 1980s from Western New York, got the idea for his transfer service while working for the now-defunct Phototronic Photo Service. They contracted overnight photo developing with the then-ubiquitous Ritz Camera. When customers started bringing 8mm film to transfer to VHS, his boss said, “This is a fad and isn’t going to last.” But when Christmas came in 1986, “they got an unbelievable amount of work they couldn’t handle, so I set up my business for the overflow,” Downey recalled.

Several locations and thousands of tape hours later, his Trans Video has evolved from digitizing VHS videos to converting DVD’s to MP4’s and putting results on flash drives. “Even DVD’s are becoming obsolete,” he marveled. “But there’s still a lot of film people want to preserve.”

With personalized service, Downey converted my decaying tapes and ended up helping me share them with dozens of old friends via a decidedly post-20th-century technology: YouTube.


I happened on Arlington’s perhaps least-noticed war monument.

On N. Randolph and 9th streets in the heart of Ballston – in front of a high-rise Randolph Towers – lies a Korean War memorial. The black marble circular fountain features bas-reliefs of battle and a capsule history honoring the American forces and the families who “sent a loved one to enter into the paths of harm’s way.”

It also honors Syd Albrittain, the building’s developer and a philanthropist whose family did not know of his Korean War silver star until after his death, in 2012.