Saturday afternoon at Fred's Superstar Salon, 57 Florida Ave. NW, is a happening you can count on. Pint-sized pinball wizards are guaranteed to be in the rec room playing a pinball concerto as background to the conversation circling the salon.
Athletes, politicians and local celebrities are as likely to be there getting special treatment as the lady next door.
Channel 7 anchorman Paul Berry is a regular customer and got his lustre wave there. Petey Greene says he has counseled youths while waiting for a haircut. And on a recent Saturday morning, James L. Denson, the D.C. Chamber of Commerce president, relaxed under the magic of a $25 red carpet special treatment -- haircut, manicure and facial -- before relinquishing the red carpet chair to former City Council member Douglas Moore.
The salon -- a combination recreation hall, community center and star-gazing headquarters -- is the place to socialize, seek job information and occasionally get some homespun counseling, Fred Jones, its owner, will tell you.
Having weathered years of vandalism, break-ins and the displacement driving black residents and businesses out of redevelopment areas, the pinball players and the celebrity barbershop that Fred and Lula Jones opened seven years ago are remmants of a black community that has refused to die.
Until he opened the rec room this year, Jones said recreation for youths in the area consisted primarily of shooting craps and snatching purses at the gas station across the street.
Surrounded by renovated row houses, the cheery, renovated salon stands as a symbol of community pride and care. Previously a one-room, one-man operation, it now boasts five rooms, including the recreation areas where youths come to play pinball, dance to jukebox music, watch television and wait for their parents to come home.
Fifteen beauticians work at the shop. Several are recent cosmetology school graduates or people Jones persuaded to return to school.
"Fred is our daddy," Mary Maddox, one of the graduates said. "'he hired us right out of school and taught us how to get a customer and keep a customer."
Jones' customers are attracted, in part, by the shop's "family-like" appeal. Indeed, entire families come there together to pick up on the latest community gossip while they have their hair styled, Jones said.
Customers have carried his styling fame from coast to coast, but the real heart of his service lies in his community work.
"He has been very instrumental in helping me do things with kids and senior citizens," Petey Greene said. "Anytime I have something with the youth, I can give Fred a call and he'll donate his time or money."
A tall, lanky, soft-spoken man, Jones says he got hooked on barbershop smells and celebrities while working as a shoe shine boy in a Pittsburgh barbershop.
"That was my first job," he said nostalgically. A nearby jazz club brought in customers like "Nat King Cole, B.B. King and . . . I would shine their shoes. That led me to wanting to have a superstar salon."
After spending eight years in the Air Force, Jones settled in Washington, married and set up shop in his and his wife's first one-bedroom Southeast apartment. Rates were 50 cents a head.
Jones said his namesake, Fred Jr., 11, one of the couple's four children, has been especially inspiring. Born blind, Fred Jr. recently received a Braille watch for outstanding citizenship and academic achievements at Tyler Elementary School.
Neighbors and friends were also helpful. During the early days, real estate broker Dismer Auxier rented him the shop and helped him establish the business despite Jones' lack of a credit rating.
Once there Jones began his love affair with the community that has made him a successful businessman where other barbershops are failing, and gained him the admiration of neighborhood parents.
"I've had parents come in here to get their children and tell me they're glad their children are here rather than in the streets," he said.
Venita Pinkney, a regular at the salon, seemed to sum up the community's feelings about Jones best. "Fred can't help but expand. He's a generous person," she said. "As long as Fred's giving the hospitality, people come to just visit."