While the times continue to change, some longtime area barbers are making sure their shops don’t — and their loyal clients think that keeps them a cut above.
In 1923, a man named Kaiser (first name lost to history) opened a barbershop in downtown Leesburg.
Pressed tin ceiling, wood floor, gas lamps, brass spittoons. Aroma of tobacco and bay rum. Haircuts 25 cents. Straight razor shaves for 15 cents. No charge for shooting the bull while waiting to sit in the fluted, double-round Koken barber chair…
“Paper says that the new kid, Gehrig, hit his first homerun… And the attorney general says women can wear trousers in public. What’s the world coming to?!”
And, most certainly, local happenings… “Did you hear Annie Oakley’s old dog Dave got himself run down by one of them horseless carriages? Maybe Hornsby will come in for a haircut when the Redbirds play the Phillies.”
Today, Mark Teixeira plays first for the Yanks, women wear whatever they want, motorized carriages are everywhere and the green patch where Philadelphia hosted St. Louis for an exhibition in 1923 is occupied by the Cutrale Citrus Plant.
“All things change except barbers, the ways of barbers, and the surroundings of barbers. These never change,” wrote Mark Twain in 1871 in “About Barbers”.
In Lake County, Twain’s words still ring true in a handful of old-time barbershops that survived the Great Depression, The Beatles, home haircut kits, electric clippers and sterile hair salons.
CITY BARBER SHOP
Norman “Ed” Woodring, owner and operator of City Barber Shop at 603 W. Main Street in Leesburg, believes his shop is the oldest and that City’s roots can be traced back to Kaiser.
Woodring bought the shop from Jack Wilson, who opened in 1958, or ’61 depending on which newspaper account you believe. According to records at the Leesburg Historical Museum, Woodring is the fifth owner. Kaiser sold to Bud Morgan, who sold to Homer Bennett, who sold to Wilson.
Ed clearly remembers his first impression of Jack’s Barbershop.
“Every day, I would walk past this place on the way to school and say to myself, ‘I’ll never work in a rinky-dink place like that,’” Ed said.
As 16-year-old Ed strolled along Leesburg’s Main Street in 1986, he was on his way to Career Training Institute. Prospective barbers and beauticians downstairs, nurses upstairs. Today, Beacon College occupies the building.
CTI didn’t last; the barbershop at 603 W. Main Street did.
“Ten to 12 years later, I ended up owning it,” Ed laughed. “Now, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
City Barber Shop must be pretty nice, huh? Actually, no.
Ed is about great haircuts, not interior decorating. In 18 years as owner, he hasn’t done much sprucing up other than replacing moldy, acoustic ceiling tiles with drywall, hanging a few old circus posters and plugging in a Keurig coffee maker and a 65-cent Coke machine.
“It’s an old barbershop, why would you want to renovate it?” he asked. “Ma Barker’s boys used to get their hair cut here while Ma shopped at the grocery store that was on the corner.”
Dozens of loyal customers certainly don’t mind the dated look. Ed usually performs 20 to 25 haircuts a day, Monday through Friday, by appointment, he said. He’s so good that he rarely takes walk-ins. And he doesn’t need to work weekends. It’s been 10 years since Ed worked a Saturday in the 12-by-30-foot box that time forgot.
And, he makes a nice living at $9 a head before tips.
Ed has three chairs — the newest is circa 1950s — but he’s strictly a one-man shop. And, he’ll probably stay that way.
“One person every five years calls for a job,” he said. “That tells you a lot about how many people are pursuing a career in barbering.”
BOB’S BARBER SHOP
Old-time barbershops are few and far between, but straight razors and hot lather dispensers still are tools of the haircutting trade at Bob’s Barber Shop.
The business Bob Crossman opened in 1948 in downtown Eustis still is doing brisk (or should we say, whisk?) business in its third location, an old-fashioned (and darn proud of it) clip-n-snip that’s survived the emo, shag, mullet, frosted tips and perms.
Go somewhere else if you want cappuccino or Perrier while you wait. At Bob’s there’s a snack machine, TV and your choice of reading material—the Holy Bible sits alongside “Car and Parts” magazine on the corner table. Walls are decorated with pictures of veterans, athletes and lawmen, buck heads and models of World War II planes. There’s also a hand grenade beneath a sign reading, “Complaint Department. Take a number.”
No one does. What’s there to complain about?
“I knew Bob and it’s still as friendly as when he ran it,” said Dan Wimberly, a retired Lake County law enforcement officer who likes his cuts “high and tight.”
Like Wimberly, the current owner, Todd Scott, also got flattops and lollypops in one of Bob’s four chairs. As an adult, Todd cut, buzzed and shaved for Lee Mears, who bought the shop in 1987, two years before Bob died.
“Seems like barbershops are getting to be few and far between. People just go to beauty shops. I don’t need a beauty shop, I just need a haircut!”
You might say Todd is keeper of the mane.
“Barbering is a science,” he said. “Cutting men’s hair is detail work, shaving the neck and ears and trimming eyebrows. You have to be precise.”
The voice is Todd’s, but the words are Bob’s.
When something works, you stick with it, whether it’s a business philosophy, a UV Towel Warmer 2-in-1 or Emil J. Paidar barber chairs, circa 1960, that promised to revolutionize the industry because they contained ashtrays in the armrest.
The location is about the only thing that’s changed. Bob moved the shop twice—both times to be next to Winn Dixie. Well, Winn Dixie left Grove’s Square a long time ago, but Bob’s remains at 401 N. Grove St.
The calendar says 2015 but the atmosphere at Bob’s Barber Shop shouts, “Ike, Edsels and Lewis and Martin.” You know, the good old days.
“Another thing I like about coming here is that the chairs are usually full and there’s usually someone I know. We get to reminiscing,” said Wimberly.
Todd said 95 percent of Bob’s customers are regulars.
“People come from as far away as Daytona Beach and Apopka,” he said.
Most come for the same thing, the thing promised on the sign that separates the waiting area from the cutting area: “Real haircut from a real barber.”
“I was getting my hair cut at a place on 441, but they changed hands so I started coming here. They got real barbers here. It’s a real barbershop,” said Eustis resident Dennis Raye. “Seems like barbershops are getting to be few and far between. People just go to beauty shops. I don’t need a beauty shop, I just need a haircut!”
That’s the song most customers sing. Cut it, shave it, trim it—and don’t forget the Osage rub and bay rum.
Tomorrow, however, might be a different story.
“Barbers are a dying breed. The state cosmetology board wants to phase out barber licenses and issue a general license,” said Todd, who attended barber school at the Career Training Institute of Leesburg in the early 1980s.
GETTING A HEAD IN A MAN’S WORLD
STORY: Aaron Klingerman
Gentlemen get more than great, affordable haircuts at The Country Barber Shop at 1004 W. Dixie Ave. in Leesburg; they get an Old West experience courtesy of Heather Coven, a lifelong Lake County resident who professionally has been cutting hair for 12 years.
Heather can’t imagine working anywhere else. That’s why she took a big leap in 2013 and bought Marty’s Barber Shop from her boss of three years.
When she did, she knew exactly how to remodel the shop to make it her own.
Cowboy boots sit in the corner. Cedar and cypress and remnants of an old tin roof serve as wall paneling. The décor includes a cowboy hat and lasso, horseshoes, fishing rods, “wanted” posters, replica six-guns in holsters, antlers and the head of an 8-foot gator from Lake Griffin. Country music playing in the background, old church pews in the waiting area and large wooden whiskey barrels converted into sinks complete the picture.
Numerous items–including several antique barber tools and shaving mugs—come from loyal customers who feel at home in Heather’s chair.
“I’ve always liked that rustic country look, because I’ve always been a country girl,” Heather remarked.
Not just a kitschy collection of Western memorabilia, The Country Barber shop is a thriving business. Heather has expanded capacity to five chairs. She regularly sends her barbers for additional training because she wants quality and consistency. “It’s important to remember the client,” she said. “But we’ve also got to remember—within an eighth of an inch—their haircut.”
Heather demonstrated potential for success in a trade dominated by men at a very young age by cutting the hair off her dolls. “They were all bald,” she said with a laugh.
She also recalls going with her brothers to a barbershop in Mount Dora and being fascinated by the old man with scissors who let her stand beside him and watch. Years later, she put money she earned selling livestock she raised during her years with the Okahumpka 4-H Club toward her training.
She was ready when her boss retired and gave her the opportunity to buy the shop.
“I’ve observed other good barbers over the years. The good ones know your name; they know your family; they know your life. That’s what I want. I want my clients to feel at home.”
Her clients surely would agree that they do.
“The Country Barber Shop combines friendly fun with outstanding professionalism,” said retired Air Force Colonel Al Meyer, one of Heather’s most loyal customers. “A great bunch of wonderful folks who make you feel at home from the moment you walk in to when you depart with a really, really good haircut.”
SOUTH LAKE BARBERSHOP
Shirley Dunn has been in the barbering business for 28 years, and she’s not interested in staying around for another two or three decades.
It’s not that business isn’t booming at South Lake Barbershop — it is. “Sometimes we’re so busy that we can’t get to everybody,” said the 75-year-old who, with her husband, bought the barbershop from Curtis Harrison. “When we bought the shop you could count the cars on Highway 50. Now you don’t want to go near 50.”
Back then, in 1985, haircuts cost $7. Today, they are $15 and up.
But, you get a lot of attention for your $15.
“I don’t let anyone sit in one of my chairs for less than 15 minutes,” she said. “If I have a barber turning them out quicker than that, I throw that barber out.”
“We gave a lot of free haircuts to our customers,” she said. “We didn’t charge them if they didn’t have money.”
Shirley still loves interacting with customers, but years of six-day work weeks are catching up to her. She wants to travel. And her son, Tracy, is ready to continue in his late father’s footsteps.
And barbering has changed. For one thing, more kids are going into cosmetology than barbering. And Shirley hasn’t been impressed by many of the so-called barbers who have applied to work at South Lake Barbershop. She doesn’t want to be around when her barbers — who have a combined 76 years of experience between them — retire.
“It’s hard to find good barbers,” she said. “I don’t hire anyone on the spot. I watch them cut hair, sometimes all day. And if they can’t cut a flattop, they can’t work in my shop.”
You’d be surprised how many “barbers” can’t cut a flattop.
Soon, that will be Tracy’s worry. Shirley’s ready to travel. Still, it’s going to be hard to walk away. When that day comes, Shirley will surely look back.
“At our shop, its like a family,” she said. “Everybody’s comfortable. I don’t allow any kind of bad language. We have a lot of kids. I really care about our customers.”
PHOTOS: Fred Lopez+Marci Sandler