July 22, 1996 12:00 PM

BILL AND DONNA WENT ON THEIR FIRST DATE in April—and quickly discovered a problem that needed to be ironed out. “We were joking,” says Bill, “that on the million-to-one chance we got married, how would we explain to people that we met on the wall of a dry cleaner?”

Of course, if things had worked out for Bill and Donna it wouldn’t have mattered to anyone if they’d met in the middle of an earthquake. As it turned out, he—Bill Raffo, a 28-year-old TV producer—and she (Donna prefers to keep her anonymity, probably forever) are no longer together, but they did become an item because Jon Han, who runs Uptown Valet in Washington, where they both drop off their cleaning, has a sideline in matchmaking. It started, sort of unintentionally, after he opened his store in Georgetown in 1994 and thought that posting photos of his customers would help establish him in the neighborhood.

Before he could ask, “Starch?” customers began noticing one another’s mug shots. “All of a sudden people started saying, ‘Oh, he’s cute!’ or ‘She’s a knockout!’ ” says Han, 34. So he began brokering dates. “I know what each individual does for a living, and I know their personalities,” he says. “If I don’t think they’re compatible, I say, ‘She’s not for you, trust me.’ ”

At the start, the gregarious Han actually went with the couples on a few of the first dates—just “to break the ice”—but soon fell victim to third-wheel fatigue and stopped tagging along. When he had about 400 pictures on the wall, his customers suggested that he assign numbers and let people leave notes for each other. “It runs by itself now,” says Han, who claims business is up 70 percent since he began the postings.

The walls are so popular (same-sex lonely hearts are welcome too) that Han now has to watch for customers who surreptitiously move their photos to a better position. And though Han claims that 95 percent of the people on the wall have gotten a response, he says that No. 608, a striking brunette, gets more notes than anyone else. Alas, for some reason, he says, “she doesn’t call them back.”

Maybe she’s just not ready for a commitment. Or a pressing engagement.

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