Sneed’s Barbershop Closes
The closing of Sneed’s Barbershop at 8th and I Sts, SE on December 15th was little noted and quietly done. Two plain paper announcements were placed in the window in the weeks preceding. According to Robert Sneed, 20 year owner of the barbershop, each of his six barbers moved quickly to find other employment at other locations including the Marine Barracks. Sneed’s was and will be forever known as the place that the Marines who bivouacked at the Barracks would come for a “high and tight” cut. And for the “civilians,” as Sneed referred to the rest of us (full disclosure: I was a customer for the past twelve years ) including neighborhood kids, MPD officers, as well as the Marines, it was the closing of a Hill institution.
As word spread, list servs and blogs were punctuated with Sneed reminisces. The Connolly family who lived on the Hill for years planned their Saturday mornings around their visit to Sneed’s. Carol Connolly, whose lawyer husband Sean is a JAG in the military, wrote from Connecticut that both of her boys got their first cuts at Sneeds, Sean at age one by Mr. Jeff who is also a DC Firefighter and Brendan by Mr. Cooper. Carol adds: “Sneeds always [had] a great mix of people. Neighborhood customers, tourists and our proud military men and women.”
According to Sneed one hundred customers a day flooded his business. They now face the prospect of finding another barbershop.
Sneed, now 75, says he is ‘tired and retired ” and done with the long hours and work days of cutting hair. Raised in Fuqua-Varina, North Carolina, Sneed says that he moved to DC in 1962 after completing barber college. He cut hair at the Marine Barracks until he opened his own business on 8th St in the early ‘90s. Soon after and as a reflection of his impact on the competition, the Marine barbershop closed and Sneed’s business success grew with a virtual monopoly on the Marine hair cutting market.
In 2000 Sneed bought the his shop’s building on 8th St for $200,000 and in December along with shuttering his business he sold the property to a developer for a price considerably north of the 2012 DC appraisal of $500,000.00.
A Neighborhood Barber
Sneed recalls that the original price of a haircut was $1.50 for Marines and $5.00 for civilians. When Sneed’s closed in December a civilian cut was $16.00 not including tip. There was always a discount for the young Marines who were its economic backbone. Marines paid $8 for the special cut they required.
Frank Zampatori, a long time Hill East resident, says he made Sneed’s his regular stop because he was paying $45 plus tip at a local competitors. “I just didn’t have that much hair to be paying that much,” he said, laughing. Zampatori, who described his barber Willy Newman as “fantastic,” said his experience at Sneed’s as “mostly all business” with “a little short conversation and in and out in twenty minutes.” He expressed his surprise at its closure with what has grown to be the prevailing sentiment: “I am at a loss where I will get my hair cut now. Any ideas?
With the closing, Sneed said goodbye to an ancient profession, but not the oldest. Barbers were once also priests and men of medicine, and were at the center of community life, a tradition which continues to the present. A morning visit to the “tonsor,” an important source of news and gossip, was as important as a visit to the public baths.
Barbering is still a thriving profession with strict requirements for licensing and training. Sneed says that time spent in barber college required hundreds of hours of training with a Master’s License the end result. Sneed’s wife, Shirley, who ran a tax consulting business on the second floor of the property say that it “costs more for a barber’s license ($150) than a medical license ($135).”
Customers For the Ages
Sneed lists among his famous patrons the former Commandant of the Marine Corp and National Security Advisor to President Obama, James Jones; the Georgetown Hoyas ’s legendary coach John Thompson II as well as former heavyweight world champion prize fighter Bowe Riddick. Many pictures of other notables, mostly military, covered the walls of his shop along with Hill resident Dan Tangherlini, currently Acting Director of the General Services Administration.
Pete Cana recently retired as an Air Force Flight Attendant on Air Force Two says the mood was somber as he entered the barbershop one day before it closed: “The first thing I thought was I have to find a different barber.” Cana, with 24 years service to his country says that he mainly talked football with the barbers: “I am a Giants fan and they all loved the Redskins. They would all ask how is Mr. Obama.”
As for Robert Sneed he says that he is ready for a “life of fishing and some travel,” having just returned from celebrating one of his siblings 90th birthday: “We did good work. We took pride in our work.” As for his success on 8th St: “It was word of mouth and the Marine Corp.”