A Place for Cutting and Connecting
Thursday, September 29, 2005
The sounds of rhythm and blues singer Usher pulse in the air-conditioned barbershop. On a recent warm Saturday morning, men and boys walk in and sit to await their turns in the chair. Some of them are here for a cut, others a taper or a quick shape-up.
Brian White bobs his head to the music as he guides an electric razor across the hairline of a young customer. A few chairs over, Tony Beckham, another barber cutting a client's hair, blurts out: "Do you know why there's so much air in potato chip bags?"
The chips, he explains, emit gases over time that must be absorbed by the air in the bag. "Otherwise, the bag will explode!" he says, to laughter all around.
Walk into Freeman's Barber Shop in Largo, and there's a good chance that the barbers and their clients will be engaged in a robust discussion about, well, anything -- politics, the Redskins, gas prices, that green stuff in fruitcake or, recently, hurricanes.
Generally, a good haircut is what makes a barbershop or hairstyling salon a hit. But in the case of Freeman's, it's more than the cut that draws clients in. At Freeman's, the haircuts are good, the discussion is G-rated and the barbers are friendly. But it is Robert Freeman, 39, the shop's owner, with his easygoing manner and his philanthropic ways, who keeps many of the clients coming back.
Freeman's personality and generous nature, even toward people he has never met, are among the reasons J.D. Bynum, a part-time Metro employee who lives in Silver Spring, said he drives to Largo for haircuts.
"The atmosphere, the people, it's all great," Bynum said.
Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, a regular, agrees.
"That's my barbershop," Steele (R) said recently. "That's where I go and hang out to look respectable."
Freeman, a native of Georgia and the son of a barber, works full time for the federal government, but he has turned his small side business into a way to invest in his community.
His projects include raising money for scholarships and sending kids to Wizards basketball games. He took more than 50 kids to the UniverSoul Circus in Landover Hills in June. He hires teenagers to work in his shop, but only if they keep their grades up.
Freeman supports Little League teams and high school marching bands. His shop offers blood pressure screenings and forums on breast and prostate cancer. His signature charity event is an annual college scholarship. Freeman raises $4,000 to $8,000 in donations each year and awards scholarships of $500 or $1,500 for college or vocational school.