Impending eviction leaves Chez Lenore looking for new digs

Friday, December 15, 2006

More than 25 years ago, Lenore Ronci would drive past the Brown campus every morning on her way to work and see young men with disheveled and poorly-cut hair.

“They needed somebody up here,” she said – a hairstylist, not just a barber.

So in 1979, she opened Chez Lenore at the corner of Waterman and Thayer streets, where she has been in business ever since. But at the end of the year, she and the other tenants of the second floor of the Thayer Waterman LLC building will be evicted to make space for a new tenant.

Ronci and the four other tenants were notified last week that they have 60 days to vacate the premises. The second floor is home to a law office, a communications firm, the Brown Entrepreneurship Program and a marine conservation collaborative, among others. Ronci said that though she once had a five-year lease, her landlord, Kenneth Dulgarian, said that he “doesn’t really believe in leases,” and she has been without one for 20 years.

Ronci currently pays $625 a month in rent, in addition to utilities.

“I felt like I was kicked in the stomach,” said Ronci, who was told by phone that she would have to leave the space she had rented for a quarter of a century.

But she said she wasn’t bitter: “Business is business and I understand that. I’m a businesswoman, too.”

Still, she said of her landlord, “I think when you reach that point in business, you lose something. You lose a certain feeling for people, a certain warmth and consideration.”

Dulgarian, the former owner of the College Hill Bookstore, which closed this year, refused to comment for this article.

Ken Tsuji ’05, co-director of the Brown Entrepreneurship Program, agreed that “it makes complete business sense” for Dulgarian to seek new tenants at higher rents. But he called the eviction “unfortunate” and said it would take a “massive effort” to find a new site for the EP office. “I’m sure there’s some good that will come out of it,” he said, but lamented that “a lot of our efforts are going to be devoted to moving” rather than to more productive avenues.

Tsuji said the EP is “considering all possibilities on-campus and off-campus” for its new site.

Ronci said she is dedicated to remaining in business near Brown, as she estimates that about 90 percent of her business comes from the University, mostly from men. She is seeking another space near campus and has two possible sites in mind but expects to pay much more than for rent than she has been. Still, she said, she will not raise her prices to compensate.

“I’m still the best price in the area, and the best haircut,” she said, adding that she enjoys providing a necessary service to the Brown community. She charges $17 for a haircut and shampoo, for both men and women.

This is good news to Stephen Barlow ’08, who recently chose to get his hair cut at Chez Lenore rather than by the barber in Faunce House. Barlow said that he was “very satisfied” with his haircut and enjoyed the conversation he had with Ronci, and said that after she moves, “as long as the distance is within reason, I will return.”

“I am not going to disappear into thin air, I promise,” Ronci said.

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