Snip, snip. Madison's Barber Shop on Main Street in Old Town Warrenton is operating again, almost one year exactly after its longtime barber-tenants moved out and opened a new shop a few doors down the street.
The move was neither welcome nor tidy and left a stubble of bitterness on the two parties at the center of a small-town dispute that, with the reopening, has become the main topic of conversation again along Main Street.
For 10 years, Chang Christner and her sister, Sang-Cha Ashcroft, were tenants at Madison's, at 26 Main St., thought to be Main Street Warrenton's oldest continuous business, dating to the late 1800s. Now, they operate Lee's Barber Shop, at 44 Main St.
Christner and Ashcroft moved after a feud with the building's owner, Susan Feeley, that flared into public view a few years ago and was resolved quietly last year. As a condition of one of two lawsuits settled out of court, both sides agreed not to speak about the matter to the media.
But lingering sensitivity over the matter remains. "No way--I'm not saying anything," Madison's new tenant, 72-year-old Jim Colihan, said when asked about the dispute. A career barber who opened shop about two weeks ago, Colihan said Feeley "wrote it in the lease if I said anything bad about her, I was out of here."
Besides, he said, he knows little of the dispute to begin with. Feeley, the proprietor of Jimmie's Market and Deli, an adjoining business she has operated for more than 20 years, said Warrenton is big enough for both barber shops.
"There are many people in the world who need haircuts," Feeley said. "At one point in the '50s and '60s, there were two barber shops on Main Street."
Christner, 57, who emigrated here from Korea in 1965, sued Feeley after she received an eviction notice, according to court records. Christner wanted to keep the Madison's name as well as some barber shop materials that she said she purchased but that Feeley allegedly claimed.
It is not clear when relations between Christner and Feeley first went sour, but things did get ugly. In granting a temporary injunction last year, a judge found enough evidence that Feeley had improperly entered Madison's to conduct an inventory of property she thought was hers.
In one of two lawsuits, Christner charged that Feeley had planned on evicting her for years and alleged that Feeley harassed her by meddling with Madison's air conditioning and the old-time barber pole out front. Feeley denied the allegations.
In the settlement, Feeley was ordered to pay Christner $6,000 and to turn over most of the disputed items. Feeley kept the Madison's name and, as a condition of the settlement, is required to keep the business as a barber shop as long as Carrie Madison, a descendant of the original owners, is alive.
According to court filings last year, Madison was in a nursing home and would not have been able to testify had Christner's lawsuit against Feeley gone to trial. Madison could not be reached for comment.
Some shop owners on Main Street said the reopening of Madison's Barber Shop is evidence of wounded pride. But Feeley said that is not the case. "It is a historic business that I felt should keep operating," she said.
The black Madison family operated the business as a whites-only barber shop. In the 1970s, a series of other barbers began taking over for the family.
Christner, who had been working in Alexandria, set up shop there in 1988 when her husband, a mechanical engineer, decided he wanted to get out of the city. Carrie Madison made it a condition of the lease that black customers would be welcome, too.
In 1995, the Madison family sold the building to a real estate company, and Feeley bought it shortly thereafter.
In the months after the settlement, Feeley tried out another barber at Madison's. Asked what happened to that tenant, Feeley said, "If you see him, let me know--he still owes me money."
Colihan, a former Marine who still trains for marathons, came to Feeley after seeing a sign hanging in the window.
He said he had been looking to leave his business in Chantilly, Super 6, because the rent was getting too high. Colihan, a Mike Ditka-lookalike who speaks freely of some previous trouble with the law that grew out of a former gambling habit, had cut hair in the Washington suburbs for more than 40 years.
He said he thinks Warrenton is a good place for him.
"I've been all around this country, and I've never found a better town than this," he said. "I get a good vibe from this town."
In an effort to attract attention to the shop, Colihan recently purchased a wooden statue of a Beefeater, a conversation-starter that stands sentry outside the shop. Meanwhile, several of Christner's customers have followed her down the street to her new shop.
"I keep coming here because of the massages," said Larry Kight, a Warrenton computer analyst, referring to the neck rubs that a customer can expect after a haircut and straight razor shave on the back of the neck. Kight moved to town the same year Christner did, and she and her sister have been cutting his hair ever since.
"I come here because they haven't cut me yet," Timothy Hansen, 50, a local horse trainer, joked as he lay back in his chair with a hot towel covering his face.
"I don't think many people will go back to Madison's," said a federal law enforcement agent named Steve who did not want his last name to be used. "Most people are loyal."
Over at Madison's, Colihan made quick work of 35-year-old John Ward's crew cut. Ward said he used to come to the shop as a little kid.
"Old Mr. Madison had a tumor on the back of his neck. It scared me," Ward said, as Colihan clipped away. "My dad said if I didn't behave, that's what would happen to me."
Ward, surveying Colihan's work afterward, said he probably would come back: "Looks good to me."