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Barbers keep tradition of job alive throughout the county

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Old-Time Barbering...A Labor of Love

By Alex Wimsatt

    SHEPHERDSVILLE -- Fifty years ago, if a man wanted a haircut he went to his local barbershop.

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    There he could get a trim or a shave from his trusted barber and spend hours hanging out with the guys, catching up on the news of the day.

    Today, if a man wants a haircut he usually goes to a franchise salon where he can get in and out.

    Though franchise operations now dominate the haircutting scene, the old fashioned barbershop is far from extinct.

    Three Bullitt County barbers have been cutting hair for decades using the same techniques they learned in barber college years ago.

    While the haircutting business may have changed some, their commitment to their profession has not, and they still operate their businesses much as they did when they picked up their first pairs of scissors.

    When Mount Washington barber David Grigsby got into the business in 1966, barbers and their clients were mostly male, barbershops were popular hangouts and the barber was a trusted confidant.

    Grigsby was bred in this environment.

    His father owned Grigsby’s Barbershop in Fern Creek from the mid 1950s to the early 1970s and from a young age Grigsby knew he would follow his father’s footsteps.

    “I kind of grew up with the idea that I was going to be a barber,” Grigsby said. “Once barbering gets in your blood you can’t get it out. It sticks with you.”

    After graduating from Mount Washington School in 1963, Grigsby joined the U.S. Army as a teenager.

    When he came home in 1965, he enrolled in the Tri City Barber College in Louisville where he spent months learning the trade, taking classes, receiving hands-on training and practicing everything from cutting hair to shaving to styling.

    He also learned from his father as an apprentice at Grigsby’s Barbershop.

    “It was good experience. I enjoyed working with my dad. When I came to the shop I was fired up and ready to do it,” Grigsby said.

    In 1966, Grigsby received his first barber’s license, which he now displays in his shop in Mount Washington.

    After receiving his license, Grigsby went to work for his father.

    When his father had a heart attack in 1972 he took over the shop.

    Four years later, he left Grigsby’s Barbershop and ventured out on his own opening Hair Tenders on Highway 44.

    In the 38 years Grigsby has owned Hair Tenders, one of the most significant changes he’s seen in the barbering business has been the increase in female barbers and clients.

    Prior to the 1970s, men generally went to barbershops, and women generally went to beauty salons.

    Moreover, men usually went to barber college and women usually went to beauty school.

    Grigsby said that began to change in the seventies when it became popular for men to sport long hair.

    When Grigsby began barbering the vast majority of his clients were men, but as time progressed women accounted for nearly half of his customers.

    Today most of Grigsby’s clients are men.

    “I’ve gone back to my roots,” Grigsby said.

    He’s known most of them for years, and many of them have been customers since he began cutting hair.

    Some even had their hair cut by Grigsby’s father.

    With all the customers he’s had over the years, Grigsby’s seen many hair styles come and go, as fads shifted from short hair to long hair, back to short and everywhere in between.

    Despite all the changes, one thing has remained the same—the long hours.

    At one point in his career Grigsby was working well over 60 hours a week to earn a living.

    He’s slowed down in the past few years, but even now his days are about 10 hours long.

    “It’s a good thing you’ve got people to talk to or you’d realize how tired you were,” he said.

    Grigsby said he didn’t think most people realized how hard barbers had to work to get by.

    Barbers don’t get benefits like health insurance or retirement from their employers.

    And barbers who own their own business are not only responsible for their insurance, they have to make sure there’s enough to cover operating costs, retirement and living expenses.

    “When customers pay the price of a hair cut, they don’t realize that doesn’t go directly to the barber. Every piece of every hair cut has to get laid aside for one thing or another,” Grisby said.

    “It’s been a challenge, but I couldn’t have gotten into anything I would’ve enjoyed as much as cutting hair.”

    What Grigsby has enjoyed most about being a barber has been his customers.

    He’s built lasting friendships with them and considers them family.

    “When you cut a guys hair for several years you get close to him. It’s not just getting a haircut, it’s a big extended family,” he said.

    Tommy Gaddie has had his hair cut by Grigsby since 1966, never considering the thought of going anywhere else.

    “I don’t know what I’m going to do when he retires,” Gaddie said.

    Grigsby’s clients trust him and frequently tell him about their problems.

    “Barbershops are good soul cleansing places,” Grigsby said.

    “I should’ve become a psychiatrist. You could tell me a story and I’d say that’ll be $200. Here they tell me the same story and I say that’ll be $15.”

    In over four decades Grigsby has never thought of doing anything other than cutting hair.

    “You don’t find many barbers who hate their job. Barbers don’t count the days until they can quit. I really don’t want to do my last haircut. I never want to throw my scissors away,” Grigsby said.

    Shepherdsville barber Paul Keith has been cutting hair for over 40 years and like Grigsby, barbering was a family business.

    Keith followed his uncle Walter “Pee Wee” Keith’s footsteps into the trade during the late 1950s. Shortly after his uncle started his own barbershop he was having difficulty finding business partners, so he asked Keith if he’d considered

becoming a barber and if he’d like to work in his shop.

    Keith took his uncle up on his offer and went to Kentucky Barber College where he received his barber’s license in1958.

    That same year, he started cutting hair at Keith’s Barbershop on Buckman Street in Shepherdsville.

    Forty-two years later, Keith still cuts hair at that same shop, only now he owns it, operating the shop much as his uncle did in the 1950s.

    Floyd Brown has gotten his hair cut at Keith’s for nearly 19 years, never considering going anywhere else because he liked the “old time” atmosphere at Keith’s and he liked the consistency of having the same person cutting his hair.

    “When you have a good barber you want to keep coming back,” Brown said.

    Customers like Brown were the reason Keith has remained in business.

    Keith explained that they depended on him and he had an obligation to his customers.

    Keith’s is the quintessential old-fashioned barbershop and though it hasn’t changed much over the years, Keith has made a few modern improvements, like putting vacuums on his clippers.

    Hillview barber Mark Quire shared Grigsby and Keith’s love for cutting hair.

    Quire has been barbering for the past 28 years, beginning when he graduated from the Kentucky College of Barbering at the age of 22.

    Quire decided to become a barber when friend Alan Durbin exposed him to the trade in the early 1980s.

    Durbin owned Highview Barber Shop in Louisville, and it was there that Quire was introduced to the prospect of barbering.

    After spending some time with Durbin, Quire decided to go to barber school.

    Quire discovered that he was a natural and halfway through the program he was teaching his fellow students.

    “It came pretty easy to me,” Quire said.

    When Quire graduated from Barber College and received his Barber’s license he went to the Highview Barber Shop to work part time.

    With some experience under his belt, Quire left the shop to work full time at the Brownsboro Center Barbershop.

    He then opened his own barbershop, leasing space in an office complex at 1st and Liberty Streets in downtown Louisville.

    After a year and a half he was forced to move because the building was restructured.

    Quire decided not to open another shop and went to work at the Fern Creek Barber Shop.

    In 2003 Quire made the decision to open another barbershop.

   The most logical location for Quire was his native Bullitt County.

    So, he opened a shop close to his home in Pioneer Village and Mark’s Barbershop was born.

    “I wanted to open a business that would serve the community I work in,” Quire said.

    He found a space off Preston Highway and went to work.

    Quire said one of the most difficult parts of barbering was being self-employed.

    “If they don’t come in, you don’t get paid,” Quire said.

    Though he depends on his customers to make a living Quire’s never thought of them simply as paychecks.

    “The best thing about being a barber is that you meet a lot of people, you talk to them, and you get close to them,” Quire said.

    “I think once you build a customer base they’re like family.”

    Nearly all of his customers have been going to him since he first opened seven years ago.

    “They’re comfortable with coming in. They feel like they’re a part of this place,” Quire said.