News & Politics

Small Town Barber Shops

In a small town or city, barbers still know a lot of secrets

“If I live to get old”

Vernon Brown has owned the Esquire Barber Shop in Aberdeen, Maryland, for 50 years. A Navy veteran, he was stationed at Pearl Harbor during World War II and went to barber school on the GI Bill. “I used to see the old guys cutting hair—they were always dressed clean and were making more money than the average person,” says Brown, who turned 80 in July and still works three days a week. “I thought if I live to get old, I’ll have that to fall back on.”

Horses And Haircuts

Cutting hair at Pelletier’s Barber Shop in Fredericksburg is Joseph Maisonneuve’s first but not his only love: The 60-year-old raises racehorses. He has 15 at his farm in Louisa, including One Sharp Sword, winner of many competitions. Maisonneuve has been cutting hair since 1960, when a haircut was 75 cents, a shave 50 cents. Now his haircuts cost $10, and he rarely shaves customers. One thing that doesn’t change is giving a child his first haircut: “Sometimes it’s fun. Sometimes it makes you real sweaty.”

“Every Head Is Different”

Lloyd Painter Sr., 65, has lived in Staunton, Virginia, all his life and has been a barber for most of it. He works at the Central Barber Shop, where customers rely on him for more than a haircut: “One day you’re a doctor, one day you’re a lawyer—you’re always trying to solve people’s problems.” He has been at the shop for 48 years and is now barber for his original customers’ children and grandchildren. Says Painter: “Every head is different.”

Like Father, Like Son

John Metalinos followed in his father’s footsteps and started cutting hair as a 14-year-old in Greece. He came to the United States in 1969 and has been at downtown DC’s Corfu Barber Shop for 20 years. At home in Wheaton, Metalinos works in his garden and fixes things around the house. The 71-year-old—who speaks mostly Greek—is reluctant to retire. “He’s bored being at home,” says his son, Gus. “He goes every day to the barbershop.”

“Ask Me Anything”

James Spruill was driving a cab in the early 1960s when a passenger mentioned that the price of a haircut had risen from 75 cents to $2. Spruill decided barbering would be a good career move. In four decades, he’s missed only 40 days of work—and he comes in seven days a week. “This is my home,” he says of Spruill’s Bluebird Barber Shop on DC’s Georgia Avenue. “My wife knows that.” Spruill, 65, serves on DC’s Barber and Cosmetology Board and likes being an ambassador for his profession: “When you get me talking about barbering, I can talk all day.”

No Politics Allowed

Brenda Shifflett has five barbers in her family. Ten years ago, while working at a nursing home, she decided to answer the call and got trained to cut hair. “It’s just in my blood,” she says. The 53-year-old grandmother recently bought her business, Shiff’s Barber Cuts in Elkton, Virginia, for men, women, and children. Customers often share town gossip with her, but she tries to stay out of it: “I don’t like to get into politics—politics or religion.”

Helping People Feel Better

Jerry Perdue grew up in rural Clifton Forge, Virginia, but made his way to the city: For 16 years, he has cut hair at Belcher’s Barber Shop in Richmond. Perdue, 55, took a few years off to become a nurse and care for cancer patients. Now back in the business, he says his favorite part of his job is “knowing you’re helping people feel better about themselves.” In his off time, he volunteers, hikes, and plays with his dachshund, Sampson—his “laughter and joy.”

Keeping Secrets

Robert Gaines recently celebrated his 50th year at Lee’s Barber Shop in Tappahannock, Virginia. He started cutting hair as a young man in King and Queen County, Virginia. At 74, he has no plans to retire—“not as long as I can get around.” His clients have bent his ear over the years, but Gaines has earned their trust: “I hear a lot of gossip, but I keep lots of secrets.”