Up to Speed: After 6 offers dating option

Charlottesville may be many wonderful things: beautiful, quaint, and friendly come to mind. But a dating hot spot? No way.

At least until now. After 6, a speed dating service, arrived on the scene Thursday, June 21, with a premier event at Rococo's, and organizer Candy Schoner says the evening was a smash hit.

"It exceeded my expectations," Schoner says. "Everybody was very happy."

"Everybody" was 38 singles, evenly divided between men and women ranging in age from 25 to 44. The daters arrived at Rococo's at 6pm ready to mingle, Schoner says, and after a few ice breaking games, the women took seats at each of 19 tables. At the sound of a whistle, the men sat down and, in five minutes, each couple attempted to learn all the pertinent information about the person sitting opposite.

"One woman described it as 'a cocktail party with whistles,'" Schoner laughs. At the end of the five minutes, a single whistle signified a 30-second "wrap-up," Schoner says. A double whistle meant "time to move on" to the next date.

The number of people at the event was the selling point for Dixie Barnes, a 35-year-old professional counselor who has tried a variety of dating situations.

"The town is set up to please the college student and the young married professional," Barnes explains, "but there's not a place to go to meet someone who's neither of those things."

She says Barnes & Noble is "the hot spot" for singles who aren't into the bar scene. But at the book store, she says, "It's hard to approach a person."

And that's what Schoner is counting on.

Schoner is no newcomer to business. She has more than 20 years in marketing, having once owned Innovative Marketing and published More Monthly, a publication for seniors. In addition to After 6, she currently owns Lapdog Productions, a marketing company.

Despite her entrepreneurial tendencies, Schoner is quick to point out that the Speed Dating concept isn't her own. In fact, it's a trend that has been sweeping the nation for the past decade, taking root earliest in large cities. Schoner says Charlottesville seemed like a natural venue for the concept.

"From a marketing perspective, the demographics are here," she explains, "and it looks like so much fun!"

Barnes agrees: "The greatest thing is that you're not taking the risk of being turned down or rejected. You're taking a role in meeting someone."

Each participant at the June event filled out a response card to indicate whether they felt a connection with any of their dates. Shoner says nearly every person got a match, and many people got more than one. Within 48 hours, Schoner notified each participant of the results, and, in the case of a mutual match, emailed contact information.

To Barnes' pleasure, she connected with more than one date. "There are at least two guys I'd like to go out with whom I'm actually excited about," she says. In fact, as of the Hook's deadline, Barnes had already gone on one date and had a second planned.

The turnout for the first event was so good, Schoner says, that she had to turn people away from the door. The next event, for ages 25 to 44, will take place July 24 at Rococo's. In August, Schoner says she'll turn her sights to adults 45 and older. Participants will have to advance register and pay a $30 fee (up $5 from the early registration fee for the first event).

Barnes, for one, would do it all over again. "I'll do it every month," she says, "until I meet that special someone."