Snippets from a barber

One of Manassas’ most controversial businessmen has sold his business and retired from his shop, possibly to write a book about his experiences.

Jim Eskins, who has owned Peoples Barber Shop in Old Town for the past 13 years, has turned the business over to two of his former barbers, Suzie and James Colihan.

For years, like most barber shops, if you wanted to catch up on the local, national or world news, Eskins or his other barbers always had an opinion.

Not one to hold in his feelings, Eskins has spent years battling with city government officials over large trucks passing in front of his shop and the lack of parking spaces for his customers.

“At times my entire building shook when they rambled through,” he said recently of the large rigs. He had urged that a traffic light be installed at the corner of West or Battle streets and Center Street to slow them down.

Eskins also was frequently in the news about his battles with the late Walter Delisle, who owned Delisle Antiques adjacent to his barbershop at 9109 Center St.

Eskins objected to Delisle parking his truck in front of his shop and once came to blows with him. He also was accused of cutting down a tree planted by the city in front of his shop because it took away a parking space.

Living on top of his shop and adjacent to the railroad tracks, Eskins also opposed the trains blowing their whistles as they came though the city. “Nobody can sleep above that noise,” he said.

Most of his notoriety, however, came last October when a barber in his shop, Steve Fletcher, told reporters that he had several times cut the hair of Marwan “Mo” Al-Shehhi, whom the FBI believed piloted the United Airlines Flight 175 that struck the World Trade Center’s south tower on Sept. 11. Eskins said he, too, remembers cutting the man’s hair.

A national magazine gave the barber shop a two-page spread on its contact with the terrorist.

Eskins also had problems with Manassas Park officials.

In April 2001, he owned a second barbershop on Va. 28 in Manassas Park.

In order to get visibility for the shop to draw in customers, he put out a double-posted, wooden sign set in the grass next to the road.

Park officials told him to remove it as it did not comply with a city ordinance. He didn’t; so they did.

Eskins protested, saying, “This is America, not Russia. They took my sign. You just don’t take things.”

Eskins said that without the sign, the hair-cutting business dropped drastically and he sold out.

He said he has been keeping notes of his dealing with the officials of the two cities and that he plans to put them into a book.

“It’s sure to be a best-seller,” he said with a grin.

James Colihan, who took over Peoples Barber Shop in July, said he will keep the store’s name, which it has had for decades.

Colihan, 77, said he has been in the barber business through most of 53 years.

“After getting out of the U.S. Marines in 1948 after a three-year stint, I went to barber college in Minersville, Pa., on the GI Bill,” he said.

He initially set up shop in Pottsville, Pa., and estimates that he has owned more than 20 shops over the years.

In 1955, he came to the Washington, D.C., area and had five shops in the College Park, Hyattsville and Silver Spring, Md., areas.

“In the 1960s, when the Beatles were at their peak, everyone was letting their hair grow long, and I guess about 50 percent of barbers across the country went out of business,” Colihan said with a chuckle.

He was one of those who closed shop and went into the real estate business for five years. He also served in the Korean conflict from 1950-51.

As the short-hair fad came back, Colihan re-entered the hair-cutting business.

For the past 12 years, his wife, also a hair stylist, has been with him in the business.

In fact, James Colihan took her in as an apprentice and trained her to become a barber.

Colihan said he doesn’t plan any major changes in the barbershop, other than expanding hours. The shop is now open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday. Regular haircuts are $10 and senior citizens and children $9. The two reside in Fairfax.

“It sure is funny; Jim who is a lot younger than me is retiring, and I’m 77 and just getting started in a new business venture,” Colihan said.

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