Longtime barber Saint Paul Davis knows no boundaries. He knows no colors, no biases and no age limits; all he knows is persistence. It’s the trait that has kept him cutting hair for over 50 years and helped turn his seven children into skilled barbers. It’s the devotion behind his 43-year hair business, EXPERT Barbershop, and it’s the reason why he’s never turned his back on a community that hasn’t always been as kind.
Sitting on the 3000 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. in Southeast Washington, D.C., EXPERT operates like a heavily-guarded bank operation. Guests are buzzed in at a secured door and iron bars decorate the windows. Criminals altered a shop that used to stay open until 11 p.m. with the doors unlocked, but Davis didn’t let illegal intentions alter his plans to help his community—call it persistence.
On the inside of the former brick layer’s shop, operations run as smoothly as a pair of his clippers. The floors are kept neat and the customers are kept happy. The moderate buzz of trimmers engenders a sense of tranquility when danger is lurking just outside the door. Keeping it customer-friendly is one of Davis’ keys to maintaining a successful business, among a few others.
“The main thing is you have to be consistent with what you do,” the 76-year-old Davis says. “You need to have good hours and have good people to take care of the customers. Long hours are very consistent in this business.”
Few have been more consistent in the barber business than Davis. His long-performed trade has trickled down from his hands to the pockets of his pupils. Davis’ 45-year-old son Kevin recently opened a barbershop a block down the street from his father’s, titled PRO CUT Family Barbershop. Since opening the doors in July 2009, Kevin has built upon his father’s legacy. As instructed by his father during his working days at EXPERT, Kevin gives back, and in a big way. This past summer, he hosted a free back-to-school hair cut day for children on Aug. 22, the day before D.C. schools resumed classes. With barbecue, music and free cuts, local parents shuffled over 200 kids to the front steps of 2912 MLK Ave.
“Washington, D.C., has a very large unemployment rate and a lot of the unemployed people are concentrated in this area,” Kevin says. “So somehow, whether it’s incentive based or what, I’ve got to figure a way to really reach out to the poor people, children and the seniors who remain.”
The younger Davis aims to do what he can to help the neighborhood. He has plans on helping underprivileged children attend trade school, although most budgets don’t call for such charity. Like his father, Kevin has maintained his loyal clientele that’s followed him from EXPERT to PRO CUT.
“First, his brother used to cut me, then his sister and now him. It’s a family thing,” says Keith Thomas, 22-year-old client of the Davis family. “They’re like your uncles and big brothers here.”
Thomas isn’t the only client to feel the love. Other customers opted not to provide interviews but did concur that what the Davis family has done for the neighborhood over the years has been pretty productive. One patron even went as far as to define the Davises’ role as a familiar word – persistent.