A Ward 7 resident in Southeast for 20-something years, David “Mr. Dave” Fuller never imagined that he would still be cutting hair, trimming beards and giving shape-ups this long when he became a barber back in 1978, on a part-time basis.
“I never wanted to be a full-time barber. I had my full-time investigator job with the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs [DCRA] for 30 years and had a little free time after I got off work. I don’t really worry about the money now, but there was good money to be made back in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. It peaked a little bit in the 90s,” Mr. Dave laments while sounding nostalgic and stating matter-of-fact that there was no future Fuller to share his trade secrets and pass on his clippers and razors. “We can’t leave it to another person in the family. There’s nobody else that has the desire for this work.”
He and older brother Luther Fuller, working side by side in the same Southeast shop at 1100 Eighth St., are now considered community institutions by a dwindling customer base. He credits their father, Phillip Fuller, with introducing them to the concept of being a barber.
Mr. Dave embraces his overall leisure lifestyle and his residing in Naylor Gardens. The 73-year-old barber and father of four – two sons and two daughters, ranging in age from 32 to 53 – says the advantages of living in the co-op community completely outweigh any disadvantages. “The neighborhood is quiet and there is security. They keep it up pretty good. I think they’re not screening the people moving in as well now as they used to. I see some of these new people throwing litter on the ground, but I love this place,” says Mr. Dave, who owns a two-bedroom.
Naylor Gardens has a rich heritage and, according to The Washington Post, is one of the best-kept secrets in the District with its spacious floor plans and beautifully designed landscape that borders the famous Hillcrest neighborhood.
Before retiring from DCRA, Mr. Dave retired from the military. He did a stint that lasted for two and a half years in the flight program (communications department) in Pensacola, Florida, before doing another four years as a reserve at the Navy Yard and Andrews Air Force Base. He was honorably discharged from the military, as was his brother, who declined to be interviewed for this article.
“Dave is just a nice man, period,” according to Gwen Allen, a DCRA program support specialist. “He was a good inspector who was well-liked. Every Valentine’s Day he would buy all the ladies in the office a flower. Everyone felt the love.”
Most of the clientele, for one reason or another, has stopped coming to the perdurable barbershop with the three chairs, large mirrors and no centralized heating or air-conditioning. What else has not changed is the cost of a haircut. Children under 12 years of age still pay a mere $3 and adults only pay $6. The price was set low years ago so that residents in the projects could afford to be properly groomed. The prices never increased.
According to the census data, there was a 23% decrease in barbershops across the country between 1992 and 2012. Since then a resurgence has materialized, and some lofty estimates predict that barbers around the United States will be enjoying a booming business of $26 billion in 2020. Leasing companies and landlords love barbers, beauticians and even cosmetologists because they see the industry as exempt from e-commerce competition.
The semi-retired barber enjoys cooking and reminiscing about places he’s visited, like Barcelona, Iceland and Portugal. “Living at Naylor Gardens is so comfortable for me. I can get the #36 bus and it can take me straight to Georgetown, while the #92 bus can take me to U Street and back. Everything is so convenient,” explains Mr. Dave, who mentions “investing well enough to have owned every car out there. I must be doing something right; the former mayor of DC lives on one side of Erie Street and I live on the other.”
Long-time customer Jonathan Johnson, 50, does not want to imagine the time when he will be forced to find another barber. Johnson has been getting his hair cut by one of the Fullers for his entire life. “This place is genuine. They are truthtellers and are knowledgeable. The conversations here are about world issues and Mr. Fuller and Dave have a lot of wisdom,” says the maintenance man, who is employed by Sibley Memorial Hospital.
Today, however, Mr. Dave ponders whether barbering is still a practical field for millennials to pursue and become self-sufficient entrepreneurs. “A lot of people in our era didn’t purchase the barbershop. A lot of these young guys who pay $250 for their chair a week don’t care about buying property. Make sure you own your barbershop. Millennials have to be very, very mature. They have to set guidelines for their retirement. Unfortunately, these young guys start thinking about retirement in their 40s, and that is too late.”