West Baltimore barber is a mainstay of his community

January 10, 1994|By JACQUES KELLY

Wayman Le Fall has a barber's chair for every day of the week.

And customers to fill them, too.

His shop in the 2000 block of Edmondson Avenue in West Baltimore never stops buzzing with a mix of conversation and electric razors.

And parted down the middle is the indomitable personality of the owner, a man who would never cut the barbering profession too short.

"I once tried real estate and insurance as a profession but got out. The hair business is where I belong. There's nothing like having a business of your own. I feel good in the morning when I get up," Le Fall said.

His shop is a classic neighborhood establishment with seven fancy chairs from the 1920s or 30s. They sport the nickel-plated foot rests ("Theo. A. Kochs Company Chicago") and booster seats for children. The patrons are a mixture of ages. There are five-year-olds with mothers directing how much off the top, young bachelors wanting a V-shape in the back and old gents just there to pass a little time.

"I bought the place on Martin Luther King's birthday in 1990 and it will be paid for on Martin Luther King's birthday this year. I'm going to have a mortgage burning party," Le Fall said.

A vintage black-and-white photograph of Le Fall's family restaurant in Dallas hangs just inside the shop's front door. The owner volunteers that was where he learned the scissors trade.

"My parents ran an eating place in the front and there was a barber shop in the back. My father was one of 12 boys. I had 11 uncles. Somebody had to know how to cut hair in that family," he said.

He came to Baltimore to his sister and decided to stay. He got his barber's license in 1959, served in the Army and got a degree from the Community College of Baltimore. He also taught barbering at Carver Vocational Technical High School and at School No. 181.

Le Fall is a man who doesn't sit still for long. This is the third shop he has owned in Baltimore. Earlier ventures were his VIP Shop at the Park Lane Shopping Center at Cold Spring Lane and Park Heights Avenue and Le Fall's Hair Boutique at Liberty Heights and Gwynn Oak avenues. His present shop is named Le Fall and Company.

Along the way he's gotten some ideas on just what components will make a barber shop successful.

"I believe that lighting and cleanliness has a lot to do with the success of a barber shop. We get a lot of compliments on the condition of the shop. In turn, I try to instill cleanliness in my apprentices, to always be sweeping the floor and keeping the shop tidy. We sterilize our razors constantly. This has got to be a very sanitary business. There is no profanity or smoking here. I run a respectable shop," Le Fall said.

In the past few years Le Fall has branched out. Ever the teacher and spokesman for the industry, he has sought apprentices from graduates of the state's Herman L. Toulson Boot Camp for criminal offenders.

"Some of my students are referred to me by probation officers. I also go to the camp and interview all the guys interested in becoming barbers. Then they have to take an exam. I'm very particular about my students. I have everything at stake," he said.

The experience has been successful. He has earned a growing reputation within West Baltimore as someone who wants to train young men in a job skill that could earn them a living for the rest of their lives.

"Boot camp has molded these men. They come out positive and fresh. They know how to say, 'Yes sir' and 'No sir.' I can direct and teach them. The boot camp is a real good program. It's just a matter of finding someone to continue the discipline that has been installed there," Le Fall said.

One of his apprentices is Charles Butler, a 24-year-old barber trainee who grew up in the Upton neighborhood in West Baltimore. He met Le Fall initially at boot camp and later at a post-camp counseling session at St. Ambrose Roman Catholic Church on Park Heights Avenue.

"I was presented with the opportunity to get job training and to get a license. And I like cutting hair and talking to all the men and children who come in the shop," Butler said.

Boss Le Fall is never very far from his apprentices and he is never at a loss for words about his profession. This past May he organized a Barber's Award Dinner and Tribute to honor two of Baltimore's veteran barbers, Pinkney A. Howell and Simon "Cy" Avara.

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