Last One Standing

Mop City’s future bleak with transit project

Erick Johnson | 3/13/2014, 9 a.m.
At the height of its success, Mop City Barbershop enjoyed hundreds of loyal clientele who came from as far as ...
Mop City employee sweeps the floor while waiting for customers on a typical weekday. Miami Times Photo Erick Johnson

At the height of its success, Mop City Barbershop enjoyed hundreds of loyal clientele who came from as far as Ft. Lauderdale seeking the most stylish looks that made the venerable Liberty City institution a cut above its closest competitors.

But as retail stores and fast food shops folded over the years in the Martin Luther King Business district on NW 7th Avenue and 62nd Street, business at Mop City declined. Barbers left for other salons in thriving Black communities in Miami Gardens and North Miami, taking their clients with them.

Now, down to just two barbers from seven, the fate of Mop City remains uncertain as owner Johnny Cheeley ponders its future as cranes and trucks set to move in this month to begin the Transit Village development project. The ambitious multi-million project is that City leaders hope will once and for all revitalize one of Liberty City’s most important business districts.

County leaders began planning the project in 2004 but the plans suffered numerous delays until the Carlisle Development Group was awarded the contract in 2011. But the company was mired in scandal after County leaders learned the company was under federal criminal investigation for defrauding the U.S. government for overstating construction costs to gain higher tax breaks.

At a commission meeting in September, County officials transferred the job to Miami-based Atantic Pacific Corporation which hired Carlisle employees to help build the affordable residential units.

Atlantic Pacific will build the village, which will cost a total of $60 million, according to Kenneth Naylor, Chief Executive Officer of Atlantic Pacific. $21.4 million of that will come from Miami-Dade County. The project will include 176 affordable housing projects for seniors, a multi-level garage, a transportation depot for taxis, jitneys and buses, a new community theatre and 1,600 square feet of retail space, Naylor said.

The only building left on a tract just south of NW 62nd, Mop City stands in the middle of those plans. Cheeley estimated that he lost 75 percent of his business over the years to other Black neighborhoods, urban blight and the surrounding buildings that have been left vacant for years since developers began planning the project. On two visits by the Times, Mop City was empty while Cheeley waited patiently for customers while his only barber swept the shop’s signature red and black linoleum tile floors.

“I’m not even staying above water,“ he said. I can barely pay my electric bills.”

Developers and community leaders have offered Cheeley the opportunity to relocate his shop to the new complex, where he would pay the same amount in rent as his current site.

So far, Cheeley has not accepted the offer and is moving forward with his own plans to upgrade his shop. He recently painted his building a pumpkin orange, a move he said was in response to complaints from the City’s code enforcement department that his building’s appearance was unsightly and brought down the area. On another visit by a Miami Times reporter, construction workers set down markers to build a driveway so Mop City customers can access a parking lot that Cheeley plans to build in the back for his customers.