Nelson “Mutt” Lassiter has become a local legend since he took over Robinson’s Barber Shop half a century ago. Now, following his recent retirement, members of the community are rallying to name the alley next to his longtime business in his honor.
The 83-year-old Lassiter hung up his barber shears recently, putting an end to a career that began in the early 1960s when he came home to his birthplace of Leesburg following a stint in the U.S. Marine Corp. He went to work for Mr. Robinson, and purchased the business from his widow in 1968. Lassiter ran the barber shop himself ever since and it was as much a social gathering spot as it was a place to get a nice trim or shape-up. Lassiter recently sold the business, but it will continue as Robinson’s Barber Shop, one of the oldest businesses in the town, likely dating back to the 1800s.
Architect Karl Riedel has been Lassiter’s next-door business neighbor for the past 12 years. He is leading the charge to have the alley alongside the Town Hall parking garage, next to Robinson’s Barber Shop, named after Lassiter. So where did he get this great idea?
“From him,” Riedel says with a laugh.
In a recent conversation, Lassiter told Riedel how he’d been born at the original Leesburg Hospital on West Market Street.
“He was talking about having been born at one end of the alley …. and then for 50-plus years working at the other end of the alley. Maybe it was wistfully or with greater emphasis, but he said that maybe they should name the alley after him,” Riedel recalled.
Naming the alley after a longtime downtown business owner would be just another way of Leesburg honoring its heritage, Riedel said. He contrasts his time working in downtown Leesburg with his former workplace in Washington, DC, to further his point.
“If I hear a honk outside, in contrast to working in the middle of DC when I assumed someone was angry at someone who cut them off, it’s somebody saying hi to Nelson,” he said. “If you think about the reasons people like Leesburg, and I think the county in general, it has to do with heritage. And I think the things that come first to people’s minds about heritage almost instinctually might be buildings and history going back a long time. But what is also a part of heritage [is] a community of people you know.”
Riedel passed the idea along to Mayor Kelly Burk, who broached the idea with the Town Council during Monday night’s work session. A majority of the council supported moving the idea to a future meeting for consideration. Lassiter was also expected at Tuesday night’s council meeting to receive a proclamation celebrating his long career.
Now home and enjoying retirement with his wife, Lassiter said he would be honored to have the alley named after him. He pointed to the other areas in town named in honor of notable African Americans, from the Mervin Jackson Park next to his shop and John Tolbert Elementary School. He hopes to join their company with the alley where his life began and longtime career unfolded and ended.
“I would love to see it before I die,” he said. “I’d like to ride by and see it.”