The more things change in downtown Leesburg, the more some things stay the same. That’s particularly true on one corner where four business owners have watched neighboring storefronts change over three decades or more.
Nelson “Mutt” Lassiter, who turned 80 in August, has owned Robinson’s Barber Shop at 4B W. Loudoun St. since 1968. KD Kidder and Neil Steinberg opened their Photoworks business in 1979 at 2A Loudoun St. Mike Carroll is the youngster of the group, having opened the Leesburg Vintner on the corner of South King and West Loudoun 27 years ago.
Their longevity stands out as several tenants in storefronts adjacent to theirs have turned over in recent months.
One common denominator of their business tenures is the stable relationship all four have enjoyed with their landlord—first Herb Pearson, then his widow, Shirley Pearson.
“He always said he wanted people to come in and be there for a while, to stay,” Lassiter said of Herb Pearson who died in 1998.
“Simply put, Shirley and Herb were the nicest, most fair landlords. If something goes wrong and it’s Shirley’s responsibility, she doesn’t hesitate to make it right. And her rents are extraordinarily fair,” Steinberg said this week.
Robinson’s Barber Shop
A former U.S. Marine, who learned to cut hair on a military base in Tennessee, Lassiter said, “I figured I was a good hair cutter.”
When he finally settled down to work for Mr. Robinson in the early 1960s, Lassiter came back to his birthplace. He was born in the original Leesburg Hospital on West Market Street.
He bought the business from Robinson’s widow in 1968, and he’s been in the same location ever since. The small shop has only a few chairs and Lassiter, who now manages operations by himself, insists on a few simple rules, including a prohibition posted on the wall: “No cell phone use while in the barber’s chair.”
Lassiter said the Robinsons, although black themselves, would not serve black customers out of concern of offending their other clientele.
That didn’t stop him. “I don’t care; if I lose a white client, I’ll get two black ones,” Lassiter figured. “I’ll cut anyone’s hair.”
Robinson’s is a gathering place as much as a cuttery. Neighbors and friends drop in to chat with Lasstier at all times. Still trim and dapper at 80, he says business is good. “I’m here, people come on in, I still pick up new people.”
He says he doesn’t plan to retire until “the Good Lord up there tells me to stop.”
Steinberg and Kidder opened their photography business in 1979, and expanded it last year with the Leesburg Photography School. They operate on the second and third floor of the Whitmore Building, above Carroll’s wine shop.
The couple met in 1974, while at college. They dropped out of school, traveled all over the country and ended up in photography in Leesburg.
“People said we were totally crazy, and it would never work,” Steinberg recalled. Almost 36 years later, their success is assured.
The secret, Steinberg said, is that “we offer a range of services. We have a very different focus [from the large chains]. We’re very specialized. In the end, it’s the work that we do—we have a range of clients.”
Carroll, who opened in 1988, has built a well-regarded business, dispensing wide knowledge about the wine trade while offering advice on good buys.
His rent has tripled since he opened 27 years ago, but “It’s still a very fair price,” Carroll said.
Although the number of outlets selling wines has grown exponentially over the past decade, Carroll’s customers appreciate his personal touch and extensive knowledge. “We’re doing, very, very well, with good local support,” he said.
Like Steinberg, Carroll says the secret of success is to have a good product—in his case it is the range and quality of his inventory and his well-rooted advice.
“Don’t complain, do your homework so you make sure you have a product people want,” he advised.
And the partnership with Pearson is a core element of all their success.
“There isn’t a tenant I don’t get along with,” she said, calling them “my anchors.”
While there are property owners with larger inventories of downtown properties, Pearson operates her smaller business empire with an almost old-fashioned but effective business model.
For one, she doesn’t do email. “I hate it—I’d rather talk to a real, live person,” she said.
That attention to individual contact makes her somewhat of an anomaly—but a very effective representative of a traditional form of doing business that seems to suit her and her tenants very well.