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The End of an Era

Centreville Barber Shop closing after 49 years.

The Centreville Barber Shop's been around for so long that, if you ask people how long they've been going there, they don't answer with a particular number of years. Instead, they measure the time by the milestones in their lives.

"My daughter's now 28," said Ann Williams of Little Rocky Run. "I came here before she was in kindergarten — when she was about three. So I've been coming here about 25 years."

Along with Hunter Hardware and Payne's Restaurant, the Centreville Barber Shop is one of just three, old-time businesses left from the days when Centreville was a sleepy, little town at the crossroads of Route 28 and nowhere. But on March 31 — after 49 years in business — the hairdryers will be silent and the scissors stilled. The barber shop is closing.

"As with a lot of small businesses today, we can't make it, anymore," said owner Terry Lawrence. "The overhead is too much — and it's going up. I lost over $10,000 last year, and I can't afford it."

Although the barber shop has a dedicated clientele, its current location in the Old Centreville Crossing Shopping Center has also added to its woes. It's in a free-standing, brick building with its name on the side that's inaccessible to traffic. And construction right next door makes it difficult to even find the entrance.

SO EXCEPT for the regulars and the customers they refer, said Lawrence, "Most people don't know we're here. Most of the 'old Centreville' people have moved elsewhere." And that's made for lean times for her and fellow barbers Pete Peacock and Vicki Surface.

Still, when the shop closes its doors for the last time, it'll leave a big void in a lot of people's hearts. And that's because it's way more than just a place to get a good haircut. The photo gallery adorning the walls tells its own story of the shared lives of the barbers and their customers — a wedding here, a new baby there, or simply a gathering of people having fun together.

"Terry's been to my wedding and to my brother's wedding, and she's seen my two babies," said Kathy Hunsaker, 36, of South Riding (formerly of Centreville's Country Club Manor). "I've been coming here since I was in seventh grade. She does my mother's hair, my husband's, my brother-in-law's — when he's in town — and my grandmother's, who's 100."

"I've been in Centreville now for 23 years, and these are my friends — my family," said Lawrence. "When my son died in a fire at age 18, two customers paid for his funeral plot. And when Vicki's brother was going through cancer at age 33, they helped pay for his chemotherapy and medication. Two years ago May, Pete's son was in a bad boating accident, and people gave money again."

Barbara Thaler of Centreville Farms says going to the Centreville Barber Shop is a nice outing for her. "It's always lively — and I always end up gorgeous," she said. "But it's more than that. We catch up on each other's lives. If there's a catastrophe, we commiserate. It's like a community center or small club. No matter who comes in, we talk. I feel sad about its closing; I look forward to the camaraderie, and it's nice to be mutually supportive."

ANOTHER longtime barber, Gervis Grim, started the shop in 1955. It was on Route 29 near a flower shop, a High's ice cream store and a pizza place (a mattress store is there now). In 1970, it moved to the Newgate Shopping Center, relocating two decades later, in 1990, to its current spot. Even then, said Lawrence, "We were still pretty much the only barber shop around. We stayed busy."

She's been a barber/hairdresser since 1985 and has owned the shop, the past four years. Peacock's been a barber for 43 years — the last 30, at this shop. And Surface has cut hair for 26 years — 19 of them here. Like her customers, she's certain of that because her son Andrew was 1 when she first began work there, and he's now 20. "He knows my customers, and they know him," she said.

In its heyday, the shop had six barbers; it's now down to just three. But between them, they have a whopping 88 years of experience.

Thaler's been a loyal customer since 1965. "I took all my five sons and my husband here," she said. "They liked to see me coming. Haircuts were a dollar then." (Peacock now charges $12).

However, she initially hesitated having her own hair cut there. "I didn't want a man's haircut," she explained. But when she admired the hairdo of a fellow church member — Beth Secules, whose son Scott later became a quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys — she learned that her friend went to the Centreville Barber Shop.

Now, Thaler goes to Lawrence regularly. "She's fun and knows how to use a pair of scissors quickly," she said. "And we've gone through some hard times together." Although Thaler's husband Bill uses a walker now and can't get around easily, Lawrence still cuts his hair — she just does it at his home. And with the shop closing, she plans to do that for many of her customers — bring the service to them.

Meanwhile, the regulars keep coming. They know they'll have a good time in a comfortable place where no one stands on ceremony and good-natured jabs fly back and forth. "We have a relationship with our customers," said Lawrence. "You get to come here and get abused," added Chantilly's Dave Windom, laughing.

HE'S GOTTEN a haircut there, every two weeks, for at least 15 years. "I got the hots for the barber," he teases. "That's 'cause I'm the queen of the Centreville Barber Shop," replies Lawrence. "When you fill out your state form to incorporate the business, you have to put in your title, so I put in 'queen.'"

Appropriately, tiaras and queen-themed signs decorate the shop. Other signs include, "No whining" and "Don't make me come down there," signed by "God." The "in" and "out" signs read, "In different" and "Out of patience."

Actually, said Windom, of Brookfield Woods, Lawrence "does a good job of cutting a weird-shaped head, and you don't have to wait in line. And it's a home place, like Hunter Hardware; these kinds of places are disappearing."

Lawrence says they get along well because "we're both straightforward — neither one of us does b.s. well. And he has a fast boat, and I have a motorcycle." Added Windom: "We're both gearheads." He, too, is sad about the closing.

"I'm gonna have to go somewhere else to get a haircut, unless she comes to my house and cuts my hair and gets it all over the kitchen counter, and my dog bites her," he said. Replied Lawrence: "He won't bite me — and I have your number."

Likewise, customer Kathy Hunsaker has Lawrence's number. "I called her at home on New Year's Eve, after streaking my hair myself," she said. "It came out platinum blonde and I looked like Madonna; it was too severe for me."

When the shop closes, she said, "I'll go to her house or she'll come to mine." But she'll miss the shop, though. "It's nice because you can come up here and gab," said Hunsaker. "At other places, it's all about turnover and money. And there are all these things you can't tell other people, but you can tell your hairdresser. She's like a therapist."

"We all get to commiserate about each other's dysfunctional families," said Lawrence. And, added Hunsaker, "Someone always has something worse."

THE CENTREVILLE Barber Shop has also been a place to network and exchange information. "I've arranged an adoption through here, I've sold cars, had kitchens remodeled and people's septic tanks pumped," said Lawrence. She's also referred plumbers and been a drop-off site. "One year, we had somebody's turkey three times," she said. "They kept changing the place where their Thanksgiving dinner was gonna be, and the turkey kept passing through here."

"It's a social thing," said Lawrence. "I even find phone numbers and addresses for people. It's a way of life that's [rapidly fading] — an intimate relationship that you don't find anywhere else. And that's what I'm going to miss."

Sometimes, customers come in even when they don't have an appointment. "They'll say, 'Terry, I just needed to talk to you, and I couldn't wait 'til my appointment,'" said Lawrence. That's why she can't abandon them, just because the shop is closing. "We're friends," she said. "As long as they have a kitchen chair and a vacuum cleaner, we're good to go."