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CLIPS: Brookland barber searching for a new home (now with audio!)

Duane Johnson, owner of M&S Barber Services, chats with customer Betty Jackson as she gets her hair cut. M&S will be moving soon as the building has been bought and will be redeveloped

Carmen Berry, program manager of the Hair, Heart and Healthy program, does diabetes screening in the back of the M&S Barber shop in Northeast

Johnson chats with local Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Joe Barrios while cutting a customer's hair

Duane Johnson, owner of M&S, hugs a customer before she leaves the shop

Editor's note: Shortly after this piece was published, M&S relocated to 2221 Kearny Street, NE in Woodridge.

Editor's note: This story was done in partnership with
Metro Connection, the weekly audio news magazine on WAMU 88.5; listen to the audio here)

There aren't that many places left in D.C. where you can drop in and get a $20 haircut.

But the right barbershop is still, for many, a home away from home. A place where you don't just get your hair cut. You drop in to hear the latest news or to just...talk.

Duane Johnson has owned M&S Barber Services at 12th and Girard NE in Brookland since Sept 16, 1995. He signed the lease at 11 in the morning. "It was a Tuesday," he recalls.

He owns the barbershop--named after his parents, Medell and Sweetsy--but not the building. The building was recently sold to a developer who plans a condo building there.

"Change is good," Johnson says. "I'm looking forward to the change." But this change? It has him looking for a new home.

There are fewer and fewer spaces in Brookland--and in D.C.--where a barbershop can survive, if you're paying rent on $20 cuts. He's looked up and down 12th Street. He's looked in neighboring Brentwood and up in Woodridge. So far, no such luck, and at the end of February, he's got to move.

"Mom's upset," Johnson says. "She said she would hold the building hostage."

M&S, like many barber shops across the city, is not just a place to get hair cut. In the small shop you'll find events on any day of the week. Through the MedStar Hair, Heart and Health program, any D.C. resident can have his or her blood pressure and blood sugar checked. (Out of the four participating barbershops, M&S has screened the most participants.) Around Thanksgiving, M&S collects food for the needy. They sell Christmas trees in winter. On weekends, Johnson rolls out a grill and cooks hot dogs for anyone who wants one. "We try to give back the things that other businesses take away from the community," he says.

Like a gathering place. "Anywhere between 60 and 70 people a day come through this barbershop," Johnson says. Only 30 of those folks actually need a haircut. Ten might drop by to say hello. Twenty "want to see what's for lunch." Some M&S clients have been coming for decades; one woman says her now-21-year-old son has been an M&S customer since age 8. Johnson met his current wife at the shop, when she brought her son in.

Cassaundrya Dozier of Woodridge has been a customer seven years and counting. "It's a good place," she says. When she learned from a reporter that M&S would be closing its current location and moving, she said, definitively, "I will follow him."

Johnson says he worries about how the changes in D.C. affect everyone. Brookland used to be a place where everything you needed, you could walk to. You could get your hair cut, your shoes fixed, your dry cleaning done. While that's still true to an extent, it's certainly not the same Brookland it was in 1995. "We see the change every day," he says.

That's the saving grace for M&S. The building is a building. The barbershop is its people.

"I don't want to leave, don't want to go, but a lot of people will go with us when we do," Johnson says.

"We're gonna have one hell of a party next month, I guarantee you that."

This is the beginning of a series exploring D.C.'s barbershops. Elevation DC and Metro Connection will visit more in the months to come—let us know if you would like to nominate one.

Read more articles by Rachel Kaufman.

Rachel is the managing editor of Elevation D.C. She also covers tech, business and science for publications nationwide. She lives in Brookland.
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