Still a cut above

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Just steps away from the Butler County Courthouse stands a business sporting a familiar striped pole out front – the traditional symbol of a barbershop. It’s one you don’t see so often in these days of unisex salons.

&uot;When I first started out in this business, there were eight barbershops in town and about 18 barbers. Now we have – as far as I know – just one barbershop in Greenville and three barbers,&uot; says Al Middleton, the &uot;Al&uot; of Al’s Barber Shop. Middleton is joined by fellow barbers Linda Stuckey, with 13 years behind the chair, and James Brown, a veteran with the scissors who has no less than 52 years of barbering experience.

No appointment needed

Walk into the shop anytime you need a bit of sprucing up (&uot;we don’t work by appointments, our folks seem to like it that way&uot;). Hang your cap and jacket on the rack, pull up a seat and chat while you wait for an open barber’s chair.

During football season, you can stroll over and look over the schedules of every area high school team posted on the wood-paneled walls. There are always ice-cold Coca-Colas and chewing gum in the vending machines for purchase.

Haircuts are just nine dollars, shaves will set you back seven bucks and it’s only four to get your beard neat and tidy.

The conversation, however, is always free.

&uot;We always get to hear what is going on,&uot; says a smiling Stuckey.

Al’s Barber Shop has been a fixture for 19 years at its Courthouse Square location, &uot;but that’s only part of the story,&uot; says Middleton’s wife, Carolyn, with a twinkle in her eye.

Al Middleton actually began his barbering career downtown in the old Snowden’s Barber Shop some 28 years before opening Al’s. &uot;I started cutting hair when I was 18…hard to believe it’s been 47 years,&uot; he says with a smile and a shrug.

Everything old is new again

Middleton remembers the days when the ’57 Chevy was the king of the road, Elvis, the king of rock and roll, and the flattop reigned.

Within a few years, the swinging sixties brought the Beatles and long hair was suddenly in vogue for the guys. &uot;We had to take courses in learning how to cut the long hairstyles…now, we are back to doing flattops again,&uot; Middleton comments.

Shave and a haircut…

However, the shop offers a lot more than just clipper cuts to its customers.

&uot;We also give shaves, shampoos, facials, and we do cut some ladies’ hair – but basically, we are just a good, old-fashioned barber shop,&uot; he adds.

When asked if they use the old-time straight razor to give shaves we’ve all seen on Westerns, the barber replies, &uot;It’s not a straight razor exactly like those. It looks similar but it has an ejectable blade on it.&uot;

The shop doesn’t do as many shaves as it did in the early days. &uot;Back then, some people only shaved about once a week – and you sort of had to scrape the snuff off of them,&uot; Middleton chuckles.

One of his customers began talking during a shave and got quite a nick on his chin – &uot;the only time I recall cutting anybody when I was shaving them.&uot;

Another challenge barbers have faced over the years is giving that first haircut – an experience sometimes dreaded by parents as much as the kids.

&uot; It really varies from child to child…some don’t move a bit when you sit them up there and others, well – it does help if the parent holds the child for that first haircut or two,&uot; says Stuckey.

Variety everyday

Young and old, male and female, from all walks of life – Middleton and his fellow barbers have seen them all. And that’s part of what makes their job so interesting, they say.

&uot;We have people who come here from other counties – Lowndes, Crenshaw, Wilcox, Conecuh – and from all social levels. People like to come here because we do offer all the barbershop services, and you don’t have to make an appointment,&uot; says Stuckey.

&uot;Your days are never the same; it’s always interesting,&uot; adds the lady barber, who prefers cutting hair to performing the chemical processes done at beauty salons.

&uot;You are really seeing more variety in hair cuts out now – people are more willing to do their own thing, whether it’s long hair, a flattop or a shaved head,&uot; Stuckey says.

&uot;I enjoy working here – I’m making a good living and we share a lot of laughs every day,&uot; she adds.

From generation to generation

During their long barbering careers, both Middleton and Brown have seen generations of the same families climb into their chairs.

&uot;I enjoy seeing all these people, the conversation…the friends you make,&uot; says Middleton.

We lose some customers – I always say there isn’t a cemetery around that hasn’t got some of my customers in it – but then we pick up new customers, folks who move in, those who move back to retire,&uot; he adds.

Everybody, it seems, needs a good barber. &uot;We’ve had preachers, lawyers, doctors – and I have cut some who’ve been to prison – we get some of all kinds,&uot; Middleton says, adding, &uot;I have to say I have enjoyed it.&uot;

Has he considered hanging up his shears and clippers? &uot;I think about retiring a pretty good bit – but that’s all I do, think about it,&uot; the veteran barber says with a chuckle.

Barbershops may not be as plentiful as they used to be, but Middleton sees no reason his business won’t continue to flourish.

&uot;I think there will always be a demand for a barbershop, as long as there is one around.&uot;