A “Barber Shop and Baths” sign can be seen at left in this Spring Street scene from the late 1920s.
The Robbins-Sanford store is at right.
earcy in the 1930s had its share of fine barber shops and capable barbers. The earliest memory I have of barbershops is sitting on a padded board spanning the arms of Shorty Hall’s barber chair. The obligatory protective cloth was draped over me and cinched tight around my neck over a protective strip of paper. Then Shorty began his work using electric clippers, shears, comb, brush with long bristles, straight razor, shaving soap and brush in a mug, and a wondrous assortment of hair tonics and oils in all colors of the rainbow. Men could get a scalp massage, singe, shampoo and shave complete with hot towel.
Barbers I remember fondly were Mr. Hall, Otis West, Claude Marsh, Glenn Harbour, W.E. Walls and Stuart Coffey. Mr. West’s shop was on the east side of Courthouse Square, which I found amusing. The shop was south of Searcy Wholesale Grocery Company and had a gleaming white floor consisting of thousands of tiny hexagonal tiles. There was a shoeshine stand and, against the back wall, a cabinet with glass doors and pigeonholes for dozens of individually owned shaving mugs and brushes. I knew the location of my dad’s mug, which had his name and decorations in gold. Each barber had his own chair, sink, clippers, barber tools, strop and sterilizer. Mr. West’s daughter Alice Faye was one or two grades behind me in school. Mr. Harbour’s wife was named Pearl. After December 7, 1941, there were jokes going around town about “Remember Pearl Harbour.” She was good-natured and rather enjoyed the attention. The shoeshine man Tony Lance, who was black, was a true professional and could really make his shine rag pop. He had other duties such as wielding the whiskbroom over each customer when he left the chair. Then there was the never-ending chore of sweeping up hair clippings and wet-mopping the tile floor at end of day. Additionally, the hot-water boiler had to be fired with pea coal. I believe the shoeshine man also drew the hot baths that were available in the rear of the shop.
If memory serves, Shorty Hall at one time had a barbershop on the south side of Courthouse Square. One day, a huge man who was obviously not a customer stomped through the shop to the restroom in the back. When he came out, Mr. Hall advised him, “The restroom is for customers only.” He said, “Oh yeah?” Mr. Hall was under five feet tall, but he immediately picked up his straight razor and said, “That’s right.” The man left and never came back.
I recall that Mr. Walls had a barbershop on the west side of Courthouse Square near Bob Barlow’s Café. His daughter Norene had beautiful red hair. His partner at one time was Mr. Coffey, whose daughter Freida was in my 1940 high school graduating class. W.E. Walls and Stuart Coffey’s Deluxe Barber Shop was destroyed by fire on Saturday night June 12, 1948. According to Searcy Centennial 1837-1937, page 58, Shorty Hall and Mr. Walls were also once partners in a barber shop, a rhythmic alliance to say the least. Advent of the electric shaver wrought dramatic changes in the barbering business. It’s not unusual to see haircuts advertised today at $12.50 up to $25 for “styling.”
I returned from the Philippines after World War II minus most of my hair so now I cut what’s left with a marvelous little plastic razor comb. But I remember the 1930s and my barber friends. vvv
(The author is a member of the White County Historical Society who lives in Springdale, Arkansas.)