Barber Shop Resurgence
Barber shops traditions are resurging in Oklahoma communities.
Nelson Cue, owner of Nelson’s Barber Shop in Crescent, cuts the hair of Lukas Bartram. Lukas’ parents are Central Rural Electric Co-op members. Nelson first started cutting hair in 1966.
Many clients enjoy hot shaves with a traditional straight razor, a service seldom found at a strip mall hair salon.
Haircuts are not the only service provided at a barbershop. Local news, the latest injury report for the high school football team, and the status of the harvest are common topics of interest.
A bell rings a greeting as the door to Nelson’s Barbershop in Crescent, Okla., opens. In walks Willie Heurta, a Korean War veteran and retired oil industry worker.
“Hey Willie!” says Cimarron Electric Cooperative member Nelson Cue, who has been cutting men’s hair in and around Crescent since 1966. Heurta waves a greeting and climbs into the well-worn barber chair that Cue has owned for over 45 years.
“How many times have you re-upholstered that chair?” Heurta asks. “I know you must have done it a couple of times since you started cutting my hair in 1983.”
“Three times,” Cue says, with a laugh. “And the hydraulics still work perfectly after all these years.” An easy banter begins as Cue cuts Heurta’s hair. It is clear they have known each other many years, as Cue doesn’t even ask how Heurta would like his hair cut.
“You want to hear a story?” Cue jokes, “Heurta has lots of them.”
“I like to tell stories” Heurta says with a twinkle in his eye. “And some of them are even true.”
This scene is played out many times every day in small town barbershops across Oklahoma. Each shop is unique. At Nelson’s shop on a side street in Crescent, a dusty paper shotgun shell collection sits on a shelf behind counter. Old FFA photos are tacked to the wall nearby showing life in Crescent over the past 50 years. A few yellowed newspaper clippings highlight a past football championship or a particularly large deer that was harvested nearby. Barbershops are community-gathering locations, much like small town restaurants, feed stores, and the local post office. Many have been in place for decades.
Yet in the late 1990s and early 2000s, barbershops fell out of favor as new, chain-style hair salons opened doors in many towns.
The era of a “cheap haircut” took over and few new barbershops were opened.
“There weren’t a lot of people becoming barbers back then,” Cue says.
Today barbershops are making a comeback. The era of the “hipster” has brought back the popularity of shorter hair and neatly trimmed beards and mustaches, and with it, the resurgence of upscale barbershops.
Bluejay’s Barber Shop in Enid, Okla., is a recent example. Started in 2011 by Josh Ward, Bluejay’s mixes traditional barbershop decor with a hipster lumberjack look. Hot shaves and full beards are in style at Bluejay’s. Eclectic old-style artwork adorns the walls, and a high ceiling in a renovated downtown building gives the location a relaxed, friendly feeling. A toy airplane seat greets young boys in need of a haircut.
Jake Morisse started working at Bluejay’s four years ago.
“I was playing in a rock band and looking for a job that was fun with a more reliable income,” Morisse says.
He knew Ward from his musical career, and after repeated invitations from his friend, Morisse became an apprentice and eventually received his barber’s license.
“I love being a barber more than anything else I have done” Morisse says. “I love talking to people and cutting hair. I like to make them look good.”
Morisse gives about 20 haircuts per day and enjoys every minute of it.
“Cutting hair is hard on my feet, but I love interacting with my clients,” he says.
Many clients enjoy hot shaves with a traditional straight razor, a service seldom found at a strip mall hair salon. Haircuts are not the only service provided at a barbershop. Local news, the latest injury report for the high school football team, and the status of the harvest are common topics of interest, as are local, state and national politics. “If you want to know what is going on in town, stop by the barbershop. We have all the news,” Cue says.