Shaw’s Oldest Barber Shop Gets a Community Makeover
The Shaw Community came together on Sunday morning, April 26, to spruce up Gregg’s Barber Shop at 1909 Seventh St. NW. Shaw Main Streets coordinated the effort to give Shaw’s oldest barber shop a modest makeover.
City directories show that there has been a barbershop in the space since 1910. But the story of Gregg’s Barbershop starts elsewhere in Shaw. William R. Greggs appears as a barber in the District in 1913. After working at two different locations in Shaw, he set up his business at 1905 Ninth St. in 1915. In 1936 Greggs moved to 1909 Seventh St., where Gregg’s Barber Shop has been ever since. (There is no record of when the barber shop acquired the apostrophe in its name.) Greggs died in 1957, and the building was sold in 1974 after the death of his widow, but the barbershop has continued to operate. After Greggs, the shop was owned by two partners, Jackson and Hill. The business went to Frank Love in 1999.
Love, 81, has been cutting hair at Gregg’s Barber Shop since 1961. He remembers when entertainers appearing at the Howard Theater would come in for a trim. Notables included James Brown’s band (Brown himself stopped by, but didn’t get his hair cut) and Pearl Bailey. The five-chair shop, which still charges old school prices ($14.00 for haircuts), remains a vibrant part of the Shaw community. Gregg’s first gained celebrity status after being featured in a 2006 documentary series on DC neighborhoods presented by public television station WETA. Love was interviewed for a segment entitled “The Barbershop,” recounting the changes he’s seen in Shaw over the decades he’s been observing from his spot on Seventh Street.
After 80 years of continuous operation, Gregg’s Barbershop was starting to show signs of wear. Since 2005 Shaw Main Streets has designated the Saturday closest to Earth Day as Keep Shaw Beautiful Day, an opportunity for the community to spruce up the neighborhood’s commercial corridors by picking up trash or planting flowering plants in tree boxes.
As the neighborhood has progressed and perennials have taken root, the decision was made to devote this year’s community effort to helping a small business. Gregg’s Barbershop, the oldest barbershop in Shaw and possibly in the city, was an obvious choice. “We decided to show Mr. Love some love,” recalls Alexander Padro, executive director of Shaw Main Streets. “It was time to add a little color to the dated, pale green and white palette, polish the pre-World War I cash register and Dixie Cup dispenser, and give new customers a reason to join regulars in patronizing a proud, 100-year-old business survivor.”
Work on Sunday morning started with teams of Howard University students coming to repaint the interior. Members of the Alpha Chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority and the Beta Chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity started to change the interior of Gregg’s into a riot of red, white, and blue, the colors of the traditional barber pole, an antique model of which still occupies the front bay at Gregg’s. Neighborhood residents also joined in, hearing about the remodeling effort through Shaw Main Streets’ tweets about the event. More than 20 volunteers came to work on the painting alone. The event drew coverage on WRC News4 and WTOP radio.
The next day, workers from CMT Design Build, a Shaw-based construction contractor, came in to lay a new floor. While Shaw Main Streets paid for the flooring, the CMT crew donated time to lay and stain it. “We are a part of the community as residents, business owners, and patrons,” observed O’Dette McDonald, co-owner of CMT. “We have watched Shaw grow into a community that embraces diversity and celebrates tradition. It's an honor to do our small part to improve our neighborhood one block at a time.”
Other parts of the Shaw community were also involved. Members of the Shaw Clean+Safe Team, along with other volunteers from Career Path DC, helped to clear out decades of debris. An electrician was called in to refurbish the fluorescent lighting; some of the fixtures appear to be from the 1940s. Because the barber shop wanted to retain the plants it had accumulated over the years (“They have sentimental value,” Love said), Lee’s Flower and Card shop provided new containers and repotted the vintage greenery.
The result? “Everybody says they love what we’ve done with the place,” barber Gennaro Ballard reports. “But they ask whether we’re going to raise the prices, which we tell them we won’t.” The new signage still advertises the pre-spruce-up prices.
The spruce up of Gregg’s Barber Shop led to a visit by Ana Harvey, director of the District’s Department of Small and Local Business Development. Harvey visited on May 3 to check out the new work as part of her tour of small businesses in each of the city’s eight wards in observance of DC Small Business Week. She brought the barbers a cake, commemorating their importance to Shaw’s small business community.
The new-look Gregg’s Barber Shop is open 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and can be reached at 202-745-9183.