Go For the Haircut, Stay for the Discourse
Mr. Moore's on Lee Highway in Arlington is more than a barber and beauty shop. It's an intellectual salon where all viewpoints are welcome.
NAME: James Moore
LIVES IN: Accokeek, Maryland, with his wife, Paula. Their twin daughters are seniors at the University of Maryland.
RESUME: Arlington County firefighter since 1988 (ranked captain) and co-owner of Mr. Moore’s Barber & Beauty Shop on Lee Highway, an establishment founded by his father, James Moore Sr., in 1960.
FIRST JOB: I started working at the barbershop when I was 7 years old, doing odd jobs like sweeping the floor and cleaning the sinks. My father paid me $1 a day and made me deposit half of my paycheck in the bank. I was allowed to spend the other half on candy and other goodies at Miss Allen’s Country Store in Hall’s Hill [a business that has since been replaced by residential development]. The fact that I always had candy on me made me very popular with the other children. I lived in Arlington until I was 17.
ROLE MODEL: In the ’60s, my father was the only barber in the county who served both black and white customers. He always stressed the importance of personal relationships and good customer service. He taught me never to charge an unemployed person for a haircut. He taught me to go to the home of someone who is sick and to cut their hair for free. One woman who was a divorcée used to drop her two sons off at the shop, knowing they would be safe there and that the atmosphere was clean and suitable enough for young kids. My father enjoyed helping people out.
THE INTELLECTUAL SALON: We used to have a regular customer who was a graduate of Morehouse College in Atlanta. He had a Ph.D. and had worked as the superintendent of the Pennsylvania education system, but he said he learned more about people in the barbershop than anywhere else. Of course, sometimes I had to put him in check. He was at an advanced age and didn’t always filter what he said, even when kids were within earshot. But he was intelligent and straightforward and would stay for hours after getting his hair cut just to talk to people. He gave me a sign that reads, “Moore’s House of Intellect and Diversity.” It still hangs in the back of the shop.
TALK, DON'T TEXT: Today, I have to provoke interaction between customers because so many of them sit down and stare at their smartphones. This wasn’t the case in the past. Conversation is the lubricant of life, and I enjoy a good healthy debate.
TRENDING TOPICS: Politics are a big topic of discussion these days. We had a guy in here who is a Trump supporter, and some of the other customers asked him how he, as a black man in America, could support Trump. He said: “Let me talk to you about it. Trump is a simple speaker. He came from the real- estate business where you’re speaking simple language to carpenters and construction workers and others. Now he’s doing the same thing in politics, and that’s very appealing.” It was an interesting point of view, and he argued it well. The other customers didn’t necessarily agree with him, but they listened to what he had to say.
All Are Welcome: About 15 percent of our customers are women. They come in to get short cuts or close-back cuts before they see their cosmetologist. We cater to all types of people: black, white, Hispanic, Asian, straight, gay, transgender. Being disrespectful of people will get you banned from Mr. Moore’s.
BRUSHES WITH FAME: We’ve given haircuts to a lot of different people. Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post is a longtime customer. So is former Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson Jr. We’ve also had former Redskin Bobby Mitchell. A lot of the young men who come into the shop want to look like their favorite sports stars, so they ask for similar haircuts. Lately we’ve seen a lot asking for close fades with sponge curls. The older folks are a bit more conservative when it comes to their hair.
CLOSE CALL: Being an emergency responder, I never know what challenges a day might bring. In 2004, I was a captain at Fire Station 2 in Ballston. We ran a call for a young woman who was in labor. When we got to the house, we found the young mother unconscious in the bathroom. She had delivered the baby into the toilet, and the baby didn’t have a pulse. We gave the mother and the infant medical attention, and both ended up surviving. I received a Lifesaving Award from the Arlington Chamber of Commerce for that.
THE HEAVIEST DAYS: I was a first responder at the Pentagon on Sept. 11 and went back and forth to the site for two weeks. What impressed me the most is how everyone worked together. Not only the first responders but also construction workers, cooks, armed forces personnel and Arlington citizens who helped in the cleanup efforts.
FIERY CONTROVERSY: There’s a proposal now to move the fire station [built in 1962 in the historically black neighborhood of] Hall’s Hill to a spot on Old Dominion Drive near Marymount University. The station’s current location was previously home to the Hall’s Hill Volunteer Fire Department, where my dad worked. I understand why people are upset, but I support the proposal to move the station. The chief’s goal is to make sure all Arlington residents are within a four- to six-minute window of response time.
CAREER CONNECTIONS: I see a lot of similarities between working at the barbershop and working as a firefighter. Both jobs are about helping people. From the firehouse, we help people with medical emergencies and other dangerous situations. At the barbershop, we take care of them if they’ve got a mop on their head or if they’re unemployed or depressed and just need someone to talk to. The funny thing is, I know so much about my customers’ personal lives even though I often don’t know their last names.