By Sophie Gorman Oriani

The Queens Chapel Barbershop at 3108 Hamilton Street is celebrating its 80th year this summer. Ownership has changed hands a few times. Tina Sang, who came to the U.S. from Vietnam, in 1989, has owned and operated the barbershop for the past 25 years. The barbershop serves adults and children alike, although their primary focus is on men’s haircuts.

Queens Chapel Barbershop owner, Tina Sang (left), with a co-worker outside the barbershop
Courtesy of Melvin Franklin Key

Throughout its history, the barbershop has served several well-known customers. Melvin Franklin (“Frank”) Key, whose father, Melvin Key, was a barber there for over 45 years, said his father cut the hair of many famous men, including former DeMatha High School basketball coach Morgan Wootten, former president of the University of Maryland Curley Byrd and former governor of Maryland Parris Glendening.

Sang noted that the barbershop has seen some significant changes due to events of the past few years, most notably the death of her husband in January 2020, followed by the coronavirus pandemic and resulting restrictions. Sang closed her barbershop entirely from mid-March until the end of May, and noted that many customers have yet to return. “Before COVID, we [were] very busy,” Sang said. “Now you see … ,” she trailed off, gesturing at her shop, which was entirely empty that Friday afternoon.

Sang said that there are other changes beyond the absence of customers. Although Prince George’s County has lifted the indoor mask mandate, she continues to require masks in her shop. 

“We work inside, and we [are] very close with the customer; that’s why we wear the masks,” she noted. Sang said that her customers have generally been happy to oblige. Due to a nation-wide increase in anti-Asian racism and at the recommendation of her son, who is a police officer in D.C., Sang generally keeps her door locked so no one can come into the barbershop suddenly and surprise her.

Current Queens Chapel Barbershop owner, Tina Sang (right), and Melvin Key, who was a barber at Queens Chapel for over 45 years.
Courtesy of Melvin Franklin Key

“This is a very hard time for me,” she noted. Sang added that she was grateful for the help she received from friends and from Councilmember Joseph Solomon (Ward 5), who helped her apply for COVID-19 assistance  from the city. Sang said she has received two relief grants, totalling a little over $500.

The Rev. Jim Brobst, a priest who lives in the District, described himself as a regular at the Queens Chapel Barbershop. “We were delighted to see Tina reopen [after the pandemic],” he said. Brobst said that Sang came into D.C. to cut the hair of priests at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, including the rector, Monsignor Walter Rossi.

Lien Briggs, who lives in Hyattsville, said she met Sang when her husband started getting his hair cut by her. “She’s like an aunt, I guess,” said Briggs, who helped Sang navigate modern technology after the death of her husband. “[Life]’s been pretty tough for her,” she added.

Sang remains optimistic, though. She has no plans to close the barbershop. “I love to do my job,” she said. “The customer is my second family.”