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Eugene Kerns is 75 and has been working as a contractor in the District for fifty years. He is to the handyman trades as John Wooden was to coaching basketball—-focus on the basics, that is.
The first thing you gotta do as a contractor, says Kerns, is engage your human side. He says that many contractors get all pissy, right off the bat, about this little thing or that little thing. That’s crazy, says the veteran. “He gonna pay you, why you gonna get upset,” says Kerns. “You gotta learn how to greet people.”
Then he lays it on a bit thick, in a way that might creep out a client or two: “You have to have feelings for the individual you’re going to work for.”
Next tip also drives at the basics, and that relates to the foundation. “The most basic part of anything is the foundation,” says Kerns. “You start a building from the bottom up…You gotta dig the footings first.”
On this bright morning, Kerns was hanging with another contractor in the parking lot of the District’s Home Depot. He’s now working on a project over at 36th Street and Alabama Avenue SE. What kind of project is it?
“A lead walk,” responds Kerns.
What’s a lead walk? I ask.
“It leads from the street to your home,” he responds.
I’d never before heard that term, but OK.
Kerns has lived his entire life in the District and resides at North Capitol and Bryant Streets NW. He says there’s no point in leaving for the suburbs. “Why should you leave where the money is to come back and get the money?”