ANNAPOLIS – Del Puschert puts it bluntly as he surveys the trinkets, toys and tchotchkes arranged around the grounds of his Annapolis barbershop, Del’s Styling Ranch.
“I like junk,” he says, smacking on a peppermint.
As he makes the rounds of his two-acre lot on Defense Highway, a small patch of green behind the mall, he points out the neatly displayed antique tin signs in his shop and the dozens of license plate covers nailed to every rafter and beam in his basement. In the loft of his large barn, a life-sized Elvis statue stands behind Plexiglas, while a sound system plays the King’s hits 24 hours a day.
Puschert, 70, in gold-rimmed glasses and a diamond-studded horseshoe pinky ring, pauses every 20 minutes or so during his tour to comb his feathery white pompadour. He loves to show off his collections, from his antique cars to the hundreds of hen and chick figurines in his kitchen — but doesn’t take it too seriously.
“It’s just foolishness. Who cares?” he asks with a wink and a smile, again reaching into his pocket for his comb.
Puschert says he is just a sentimental guy. For him, the junk is not as important as the people connected to it.
“I cherish my friends, I really do,” he says.
The pictures and memorabilia that bedeck Puschert’s shop tell a story of a life he describes as “a good run.”
After touring with Elvis Presley in the 1950s, he played the saxophone in a local band called the Van Dykes. The self-described “#1 rock-and-roll band in the state of Maryland,” shared the stage with greats like Ike and Tina Turner and The Coasters. They even played with Otis Redding at a tobacco barn party in Upper Marlboro, he said.
But the music business wasn’t steady work, and Puschert’s father encouraged him to learn a trade to have “something to fall back on.”
“He would say, `Nobody’s gonna want to hear you blow that horn,'” Puschert says.
So Del learned to cut hair, and in 1962 he bought the property where the shop stands — but continued to “boogie” with the band. Finally, after decades of playing, Puschert began to settle down and worked full-time as a barber, playing gigs at night and on the weekends.
But it was a smooth transition for Puschert. “In a barbershop, you can reminisce. There’s a lot of sentiment attached to this place,” he says.
Although he has not styled hair full-time for almost 10 years, Puschert visits the shop nearly every day.
“I stop out in the morning, I cut the fool, kiss the girls and that’s it,” he says, with a slight Southern Maryland drawl.
Making his way through the shop on a rainy Friday afternoon, it seems that Puschert knows every customer by name. The ladies in the parlor blush when he comes calling, and the staffers greet him cheerily as he passes through the many rooms in the storefront.
He can’t make it 5 feet before he is stopped by someone who just wants to chat or say hello. He jokes with the clients, telling stories of music, vacations and current happenings, and they update him as well, sharing news about children and grandchildren.
Many of his patrons have been coming to the “styling ranch” for years. Amy Daywalt, who was waiting to get her hair rolled and set, has been a beauty shop customer, and a fan of Puschert’s, for 23 years.
“He’s a very nice man. He always talks to everyone, you know,” says Daywalt, 79, who says she looks forward to her weekly appointments at the shop.
“It’s certainly personal, I think it’s quite nice,” she added.
Stylist Wanda Manning says Puschert’s presence “makes the whole place.”
“Everybody knows him. He makes you laugh. Once you meet him, you’ve got a friend for life,” she says.
Puschert couldn’t agree more.
“They’re good to me, I’m good to them, and that makes it work,” he said.