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Bart's remains a family barbershop after 60 years in Laurel

Shopping in Laurel was done almost exclusively in storefronts along Main Street until brothers Melvin and Wolford Berman and Arthur Robinson, of Berman Enterprises, developed the Laurel Shopping Center on the grounds of the old Laurel Sanitarium in the late 20th century.

It was the mid 1950s; television had been broadcasting for almost a decade from D.C. to the booming town of Laurel, strategically situated along a concrete road network that linked Baltimore to Washington.

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The first retail center of its kind in the area, the Laurel Shopping Center drew chain stores such as Giant Food, Woolworth, Kresge, White Coffee Pot, Singer Sewing Machines and Peoples Drug Store; as well as mom and pop shops like Sherry's Jewelers, Mel-Ron Fabrics, Liquor Fair, Frank's Hardware and Bart's Barber Shop.

On Nov. 14, 1956, a ribbon-cutting ceremony with then-Gov. Theodore McKeldin launched the L-shaped Laurel Shopping Center.

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Nearly 60 years later, the adjacent Laurel Mall built in 1979 is a memory, giving way to the new Towne Centre at Laurel. Also a memory are most of the trailblazing tenants of the shopping center, and others that have come and gone.

But Bart's Barber Shop, a retail landmark founded by the late Bart Scardina Sr. (1912-2000), stands steadfast, imprinted in the hometown experience of generations of Laurel residents.

The Rev. Warren Litchfield was 27 years old when Bart's Barber Shop opened with the Laurel Shopping Center.

One of Bart Sr.'s first customers, Litchfield, a Laurel native who serves as chief chaplain for Prince George's County Fire and Rescue Services as well as chaplain for the city and for Laurel's fire and police departments, said his father and Bart Sr. were friends.

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For business owners along Howard County's stretch of Route 1, reliable public transportation, workforce training reform and affordable housing options for workers top the wishlist.

"[Bart Sr.] was a good man," he said. "He told you like it was and that's the way it was."

Today, Bart Jr., 57, and his daughter, Laura Scardina, 30, are second and third generation Scardina barbers following in Bart Sr.'s footsteps, cutting hair in what they say has always been a family atmosphere.

The shop still offers Bart Sr.'s old-fashioned hot towel, lathered face-shave, a "lost art" that Laura Scardina said is requested daily.

Bart Jr. spends most of his part time workweek managing the eight-chair shop. He still cuts hair for his own long-standing clients and focuses on working with his barbers to ensure they understand and fulfill customers' requests.

"Communication is the key to a successful business," he said.

Laura Scardina is a full time barber. If she has children, she said she hopes they will become part of the family legacy to carry Bart's Barber Shop into a fourth generation.

"It would be awesome," she said.

Bart's beginnings

In 1956, Bart Scardina Sr. — a 38-year-old Army veteran and barber who cut hair at the Pentagon — moved his family to Laurel Hills from Washington, D.C., and opened Bart's Barber Shop in the new Laurel Shopping Center.

Bart Sr. charged $2.75 for a haircut when the shop doors opened, according to Bart Jr., who said he grew up in his father's shop, sweeping the floor and shining shoes for 30 cents from the time he was about 10 years old.

Bart Jr. was 13 years old when Arthur Bremer tried to assassinate George Wallace in the shopping center parking lot in 1972.

"There was a lot of chaos," he said. "We went into a lockdown for about 45 minutes."

It was, Bart Jr. said, the first "lockdown" he'd ever heard of.

In 1975, after serving eight years in the Army, Steve Scardina (Bart Jr.'s older brother) opened Bart's Hair House for women inside the shop. Scardina worked as a barber and cosmetologist in the family business until he died in 2015.

Bart Jr. was considering becoming a mortician when he was in high school. But his father convinced him to join the family business. He attended Bladensburg Barber School, where his brother Steve had trained, in 1978 and then went to work at the family shop.

A haircut cost $6 in Bart Jr.'s early days of barbering; today, a basic haircut costs $14. The biggest change in style he's seen over the years, he said, is that men don't grow their hair long anymore.

"The hippie days are gone," Bart Jr. said. "We get a lot of military people."

At the turn of the 21st century, Bart's Barber Shop relocated from what is now the bakery inside Giant Food to its current spot next to Hobby Works, with Bart's Hair House situated in the back.

The shoeshine chair is on display, along with Bart Sr.'s collection of Civil War guns and swords hanging on the shop walls.

A lovely antique cash register, still in use after 60 years, adds to the nostalgia.

"It works when the power is out," Bart Jr. said of the cash register. "There's nothing fancy about this shop; if it's not broken, [we] don't fix it."

Bart Scardina Jr. poses for a photo with his daughter and fellow barber Laura Scardina of Pasadena while holding an old photo including his late father Bart Scardina Sr. at Bart's Full Service Barber Shop in Laurel, MD on Wednesday, May 18, 2016. The shop was opened in 1956 by Bart Scardina Sr.
Bart Scardina Jr. poses for a photo with his daughter and fellow barber Laura Scardina of Pasadena while holding an old photo including his late father Bart Scardina Sr. at Bart's Full Service Barber Shop in Laurel, MD on Wednesday, May 18, 2016. The shop was opened in 1956 by Bart Scardina Sr. (Jen Rynda / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Third generation

Laura Scardina, who attended the Academy of Professional Barber-Stylists in Wheaton, said she learned most of what she knows about barbering under her father's watchful eye after she settled in at Bart's in 2006.

From the age of 13 until she graduated high school, Laura worked part-time as a dog groomer.

Bart Jr. said he was surprised and pleased when she came onboard at Bart's (charging $11 for a haircut), a job she said she loves.

"I find cutting hair very relaxing; I just go into my zone," she said. "And now my customers don't bite or scratch."

In 2008, Bart Jr. started Bart's on Wheels to serve seniors who couldn't make it in to his shop. He continues to personally deliver haircuts on request to men at nursing homes, hospitals and their own homes within a 5-mile radius of the shopping center, including Cherry Lane Laurel Nursing Home, Laurel Regional Hospital and Mariner Nursing Home.

"I like doing it," Bart Jr. said. "The people seem really appreciative of the service."

Thomas Lynch Sr., owner of Academy Ford in South Laurel, said he's been going to Bart's Barber Shop since 1962 when his family-owned auto dealership opened in its former location on Main Street.

"Bart Sr. was a fine gentleman," Lynch said. "We had very social conversations about what was going on in Laurel."

After Bart Sr. died, Lynch, who lives in North Laurel, said he started going to Steve and Bart Jr. for his haircuts.

"Steve and his father and brother were always very attentive to the needs of their clientele," he said.

Laura Scardina said that another long–time customer talks about the time her dad rushed out in the middle of cutting his hair when Bart Jr. got the call that she was about to be born.

"Our customers are like a second family," she said.

Bart Jr. said he feels blessed by the barber shop's long–term clientele.

Considering himself "about the last of the original customers," Litchfield said Bart's is "a nice quality, clean shop" and a place to talk about old times and customers who have been around for years.

"Bart Jr. likes to hear some of the old stories," Litchfield said.

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