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Evicted Barbers Sweep Up for Last Time : North Hollywood: Partners who were forced out leave their longtime shop and their profession.

March 27, 1994|JOHN M. GLIONNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORTH HOLLYWOOD — The century-old, out-of-tune piano is gone. So are the twin barber chairs and time-worn seats where customers at Jim & Tom's Barber Shop once sat to shoot the breeze and leaf through men's magazines like some blue-collar scene from Mayberry.

The hand-painted barber pole still stands with its descending red stripe. So do the massive wall mirrors where so many men sternly appraised their new $6 haircut with head turned this way and that.

Now Tom Wilson can only look into those mirrors and ask himself how it happened: After more than three decades of doing business at the same North Hollywood location, near the corner of Magnolia and Laurel Canyon boulevards, he and partner Jim Carcioppolo, 79, have been forced to close their doors.

Today is the deadline--the barbers must be out of the shop they have called home since the 1950s, heeding an eviction that has become the unkindest cut of all.

They were ordered out earlier this month by a landlord who grew weary of the homeless men and women who used to frequent the shop--including Russ Turner, a 43-year-old washed-up jazz musician who used to play the old piano so well it brought tears to the barbers' eyes.

The last haircut was this week--ironically of a homeless man, to the cheers of his fellow street dwellers who had pitched in to pay for the cut.

"The homeless all came and got drunk and left their bottles around," said Wilson, pointing to an empty bottle of Fleishmann's vodka, small enough to fit into a coat pocket. "Now we're the ones who are homeless. We've joined the crowd."

Wilson has spent the week cleaning up the shop, scraping the yellowed newspaper clippings off the walls. The old blue-and-white parquet floor is littered with mementos.

A 76-year-old with a delicate mustache and seafarer's cap, Wilson is saddened by the eviction.

"Those homeless people didn't hurt anybody. They'd come maybe three or four at a time to hear Russ play the piano and to say hello. They didn't stay long. But hell, they're human beings, too. They shouldn't just be run off like stray dogs."

For five years, the barbers gave Turner--a former studio musician who claims to have once played with Frank Sinatra and Buddy Rich--a home to store his meager belongings. Now those things are gone, along with everything else.

But neighbors complained that the homeless frightened women customers at the dress shop nearby. "We're glad the problem is gone," said one nearby shop owner, who asked not to be identified. "But, to tell you the truth, we miss those barbers already. They were really a part of this neighborhood."

Now all Tom Wilson has left are the scraps of hair his homeless helpers used to sweep into the corner. And memories.

"My best one is of the people who patronized me," he said. "Some of them have come by to say goodby. Some cried. I didn't, but purt-near." He shakes his head slowly. "It's a letdown."

Carcioppolo has quit barbering for good. But Wilson, who next plans to fix his earthquake-damaged fence at home, says he may cut hair again.

"Call us a couple of old dogs. But we just didn't like to be dictated as to whose hair we could cut."

Now a tiny sign hangs in the window directing passersby to a nearby shop. But a would-be customer enters the shop without seeing the hand-scrawled message.

"What do you mean you're closing?" he asks.

"This is it. They ran us off," Wilson responds sadly. "No, we're not gonna move. We're just gonna quit."

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