When Leroy Evans arrived one midsummer afternoon at the barbershop he operated in Annapolis, he had every intention of packing it up for good.
He'd planned on taking out the two art deco-style barbershop chairs he had purchased three decades earlier from a used-furniture dealer, who had thrown in a Coca-Cola machine ("10 cents buys you 16 ounces!" it advertised) and a box of razors to sweeten the deal.
But as soon as Evans appeared at the glass door of Leroy's, his barbershop on Monticello Avenue off West Street, his customers started to fill the seats inside, just as they had done since 1987, when he moved to the location after operating shops on West Washington Street and Calvert Street.
"I made the mistake of bringing my scissors with me,'' said Evans, 66, smiling and shaking his head as he covered Patricia Silverthorne of Annapolis with a cape and turned on his electric razor.
On Aug. 31, Evans was finally forced to close his leased shop for good. In July, two hairdressers bought the two-story building housing Leroy's and a taxi company for $302,500, and they plan to turn it into an upscale salon in keeping with West Street's ongoing gentrification.
The taxi company, a floor above the barbershop, was also forced to move and has relocated farther down West Street.
Evans's move reflects the wider push of commercial progress along West Street and a corresponding rise in rents. The area is now too expensive for the likes of Evans, whose price list, taped to his barbershop's mirrored wall, read: $12 haircut, $7 shave, $6 razor neckline, $12 lady's styling, $4 eyebrows.
Evans never did take appointments at his shop, where he worked side by side with another barber known to customers only as Smitty. But from the moment he'd open the doors at 4:30 p.m., after his other regular shift cutting hair at the U.S. Naval Academy, both barber's chairs would be full, as would the double bench and two seats against the wall for waiting customers. Evans would work until every last one of them was trimmed.
Through his more than five decades as a barber, Evans has become accustomed to being shuttled out of one shop after another for the sake of progress.
"I wish I had bought it. I didn't even think to try,'' he said. "I'm going to miss this location. It's got the best views in the world."
Evans isn't the only one who loves a West Street location. Ever since the earth started moving earlier this year for the $150 million Park Place multi-use development project at nearby Westgate Circle, entrepreneurs and real estate investors have been knocking on doors along the corridor, trying to get in on the ground level of what promises to be a new retail hub.
"A lot of people ask me if this building is for sale,'' said Jin S. Kwoun, owner of Reuben's Restaurant, located next to Evans's former barbershop. "I wish I owned it. I'd be a rich man."
Many of Kwoun's customers, who come in for $4 egg platters and $1 cups of coffee, live nearby in some of the city's last unsubsidized, low-income rentals. Some of them are seeing their rents rise by $200 and $300 a month.
House painter Eric Roberge was informed this summer that the rent on his decrepit two-bedroom apartment on Monticello would rise from $710 to $975.
"West Street is turning into a happening place,'' said Roberge, who is raising his hourly rates and taking a roommate to help pay rent. "It's happening for businesses, but for renters, it's pay out more or leave."
On the other side of Evans's former barbershop, the Community Action Agency, headed by Yevola Peters, underwent a recent facelift. Paint and elegant black awnings have dressed up the nonprofit social services agency. Peters, who helped the organization buy its building in the mid-1980s in what was then the seediest section of West Street, said she has received multiple sales offers.
"As we sit here and do housing counseling and prevent people from being evicted, our neighbors are being forced out,'' Peters said. "It certainly tells the story of what's going on in this area, and how this inflated real estate economy deals with finding more space.''
For now, in addition to his Naval Academy shifts, Evans is cutting hair at a beauty shop at 220 Chesapeake Ave. in Eastport. But he is working on a deal to buy a barbershop even farther out West Street, near Solomons Island Road.
This time, he plans to have four chairs, plenty of waiting room and the assurance that he can't be kicked out.
"I've tried to stop cutting hair,'' said Evans, who learned his trade as a boy growing up in Dunkirk, cutting the hair of his eight brothers. "If I retire, I'd still work. So I'm going to keep cutting hair."