Wave of Graffiti Mars Businesses 

Graffiti is a perennial problem, Allen says, but it seems to be worse than usual this fall. One of the first, and most prominent, tags was reported Sept. 5. Sprawling on a wall above the Cary Court Shopping Center, it reads "REFUSE 2B SMART" in large black-and-white letters — the "A" is about 3 feet high.

The same tag has been spotted in a couple of other places throughout the city including Church Hill, but so far, Allen says, only the Cary Court mark has been reported as a crime. "It shocks me because no one saw them doing it," she says.

Last week, someone tagged a shop window in the 1200 block of Cary Street with acid, Allen says, causing $4,000 worth of damage. Graffiti etched with acid (most likely hydrofluoric, which can destroy flesh and decalcify bone) was first reported in Richmond a year ago and is considered a felony.

Also in the last three weeks, Main Art was tagged, as was a truck belonging to Richmond Piano on Cary Street and a car parked behind Fan Photo on Main Street that also had its tires slashed. Last Friday, Fan Photo owner Katie Douglas found someone had smashed the glass in her front door in the night and left a "Hello, my name is" sticker, complete with graffiti tag, on the door frame.

"This seemed kind of weird to me," says her husband, Steve Douglas, inspecting the blue sticker. "I've never heard of vandals leaving their call tag." In 14 years, the shop has never been defaced like that, he says.

Graffiti artists are often caught in the act, through surveillance or from Web sites bragging about their feats, Allen says. The police department offers rewards of $100 to $1,000 for information leading to an arrest.

The Cary and Main vandals are still at large, but last week Allen caught "the strangest person" spraying a tag on Cary Street, she says. A musician from San Francisco, he said he was straight-edge: non-drinking, not a drug user, and vegan. But graffiti-spraying? "Oh yes," Allen says.

— Melissa Scott Sinclair

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