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VCU Grad Lands Coat-Check Gigs for Obama Galas 

Andy Hulcher, owner of Richmond-based Partnership Staffing, will run the coat-check operations at six of the 10 inaugural balls in Washington celebrating President-elect Barack Obama's Jan. 20 swearing-in.

None of the inaugural balls that Hulcher has staffed previously — “everybody named Bush or Clinton, we've done” — has required this much security. In the past, management has undergone some basic background checks, but this year all 230 coat-checkers have to submit photos and social security numbers to the Secret Service.

Hulcher, a smooth talker who works in loafers without socks, paid his way through Virginia Commonwealth University waiting tables and bartending at the Westwood Racket Club. He started the staffing service on the side and broke into the big D.C. gigs through connections from the club. It's not as easy as it sounds. There are forms of the coat-check bandit: the drunk, the ticket swapper, the mink thief.

This event will require 35,000 check tickets, $27,000 in rented coat racks and a six-figure deposit from the inaugural committee. At President George W. Bush's second inauguration, tips alone came to $32,000. Hulcher and his core band of managers will stay in a Springfield home they found through Craigslist.

Hulcher has enlisted checkers from nonprofits such as the Knights of Columbus who promise to donate the evening's pay to charity, and deputized the Hanover High School softball coach to round up bodies.

Continuing his charitable streak, a recent encounter with a partially paralyzed woman inspired him to write a letter to his band of checkers, encouraging them to donate a portion of their tips to the woman so she can return to Lima, Peru, and continue a costly stem cell treatment that she says has been helpful.

“Here we are,” he writes, “going to check coats for such an historic occasion! And we can all walk.”

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