Three Riverdale Businesses Could Be Displaced by Purple Line Plans
Light rail could uproot three buildings on the corner of Kenilworth Avenue and East-West Highway.
The three businesses housed side by side in the little boxy buildings on Kenilworth Avenue have almost nothing in common. One is a barbershop, another prepares tax returns for Spanish speakers and the third is an African fabric boutique.
But they may share a common fate: They will disappear if the 16-mile, $1.93 billion Purple Line connecting Bethesda to New Carrollton becomes a reality.
None of the three has been told this for certain, and most say they don’t have a plan. Instead, they’re waiting for that phone call or for a notice to come in the mail or for a knock on the door telling them the state is buying their property.
Maryland Transit Administration officials have stopped by each establishment and spoken in person with someone at two of the businesses but were unable to make contact with Barney Stokes, owner of Image 1 Hair Designs. They informed the employees about the Purple Line, told them about upcoming meetings and said to contact the MTA to learn more, according to Michael Madden, the MTA’s manager on the Purple Line study.
But when visiting the businesses, the MTA officials don’t tell the workers their shop may be taken. They aren’t allowed to yet, referring those who ask to contact other MTA officials or to attend MTA-hosted forums for more information. They’re required to wait until the preliminary engineering stage defining the light rail’s trajectory and the environmental impact statement are complete, which should be next summer, Madden said.
Image 1 Hair Designs
Stokes lives in the basement of 6202 Kenilworth Ave., a red-bricked home originally built for a family of four. Five days a week, the 82-year-old climbs the outside stairs to the ground floor to wait for his customers.
There are black barber chairs waiting for the owner and only full-time barber of Image 1 Hair Designs. Built in the 1800s, they still swivel perfectly and are the prime height for cutting hair.
Image 1 Hair Designs isn’t just a barbershop, it’s an institution, said patron Rosie Gordon, who doesn’t want to lose the institution to the Purple Line.
But Stokes, who has been cutting hair in Riverdale Park for 56 years, doesn’t want to settle down anywhere else.
Stokes was born into the profession. Because most of his neighbors growing up in Alabama could not afford haircuts, his father, Cager Stokes, cut their hair for free. The job that thrives on “collaboration with the customers” and constant social interaction is in his blood.
Stokes cut hair in the Navy, and when he was discharged in 1956, the 26-year-old drove all night, ending up at East Riverdale Barbershop.
Stokes bought the shop nearly two weeks afterward. One name change, a small move just a quarter-mile down Kenilworth and 56 years later, Stokes is still cutting hair.
“Never been a day I didn’t want to go to work,” said the white-haired Stokes, sitting in one of his antique black barber chairs, his cane on the ground.
Business has slowed at this once-bustling shop, when Stokes often “missed more lunches than he had.” Although new customers aren’t rolling in daily, current ones remain fiercely loyal.
“It’s not just like you’re going to get a haircut. It’s like you’re going in to see a friend and get a little haircut at the same time,” said Gordon, who has frequented the shop for at least 15 years. “I hope, for many more years, I can go get my hair cut at Barney’s.”
But Stokes said he doesn’t have the energy or the drive to move elsewhere. And because the MTA hasn’t yet contacted him to buy up his property, he hasn’t given thought to where he would move.
Superior Tax, the Spanish-language satellite of an Annapolis business, sits on the street’s corner saddled next to East-West Highway. While its single bilingual representative, Dennis Nicaragua, often commutes to Annapolis to help service the higher volume of clients there, the business is planning to move to 6120 Kenilworth Ave. this summer, according to both Nicaragua and Sharon Scales, a Superior Tax receptionist in Annapolis.
The office confirmed receiving pamphlets about Purple Line forums. Owner Steve Osagbue did not return three calls for comment.
Lenny Wertz, president of Central Kenilworth Avenue Revitalization Community Development Corporation (CKAR), said he has attempted to warn businesses along Kenilworth, distributing materials about the forums and the light rail in general.
“I myself have walked the corridors a couple of times, over the course of three or four months, and even then it was hard to determine Superior Tax’s business hours,” said Wertz. “We didn’t know that Superior Tax is a satellite office; CKAR has not had much interaction with them.”
Sophisticat Boutique and Art Gallery
Sophisticat Boutique and Art Gallery, at 6200 Kenilworth Ave., doesn’t have a relocation plan, according to property owner Juan Campos. If it needs to be sold, he’ll willingly sell it.
“I don’t get attached to any property,” Campos said.
But first, the shop needs to get back in business.
A bright orange Prince George’s Department of Environmental Resources notice taped to a window indicates the business is not allowed to be in operation.
The notice was posted Feb. 28 due to an “inactive and expired permit,” Behdad Kashanian, the associate director of the Department of Environmental Resources’ Licenses and Inspections Division, stated in an email.
Campos needs to obtain a new building permit and “to provide Engineer/Architectural certifications for all concealed work or remove all illegal construction activities,” the email stated.
The owner requested more time to get back up to code, according to Kashanian, and the department said he has until April 30. Because this date has since passed, the business should not be in operation; the case will be sent to court for fines and/or penalties, Kashanian stated.
But Campos said he expects the business to be back in operation in three months. And then, they’ll sit tight and see if the state needs to acquire the property.
The owner of the shop, Vera Aladekoba, was unresponsive to inquiries via email and phone and was not available for comment at her store.
How do you think potentially losing these three businesses would affect Riverdale Park?