SUMMERSVILLE, W.Va. — Bob Townsend picked up a black-handled straight razor and started cutting toward the ceiling. Short, swift swipes evened out a local’s hair so the gentleman could look his finest.
“A lot of people are afraid to use a straight razor,” said Townsend, owner of Townsend Barber Shop. “It’s a dying art. No one wants to learn because it takes so much practice.
“He’s never cut me or even nicked me,” Hookersville resident Frank Tinnel added with a smile. “Bob does good work.”
Good work has been a staple of Townsend Barber Shop since 1931, Bob said. Strong work ethic and a friendly environment have kept the barber shop in business for four generations, he added.
“My father started this barbershop decades ago and I started with him in 1958,” Bob said. “I graduated high school and knew I would be a barber, just like my father, Earl.”
Earl Townsend has passed away, but his legacy lives on in the little shop on Main Street.
“Dad always wore dress pants, a tie, and a white dress shirt,” Bob said as he pointed to a black-and-white photo on the wall. The photo showed a dark-haired man with a stern face cutting a little boy’s hair.
Bob pointed at his exposed ankles.
“Dad would raise hell if he caught me wearing shorts at work, but I’ve been doing it for years,” Bob said with a laugh.
Laughter rang throughout the barbershop several times as Bob and his family chatted with clients and among themselves. Helping the community to laugh and feel welcome is a role of barbershops across the nation, Bob said.
“We don’t get to play much of any other kind of role,” he said as he laughed heartily. “I laugh because we work long, long hours. I’m in here at 5 a.m. cutting people’s hair on the way to work.”
Bob’s grandson said the barber still plays the role of confidant and secret-keeper.
“We have everything going on and some of it we just can’t tell,” Bradley Hugart said with a grin.
Bradley said he knew he wanted to work in his grandfather’s barber shop and he likes the security of working for family.
“I was still making my mind up in high school, but I’m glad I did,” Bradley said. “It’s been a lot of fun and I enjoy working with family.”
Bradley’s specialty is designs in the back of the head, which are popular among kids and teens, he said.
“I can do the Nike checkmark,” Bradley said. “The UnderArmor symbol is something I’ve done and we do a lot of numbers for football players and the like.”
Bradley’s mother and father work at the shop, too, making every day a family affair.
“Things are a bit more feminine back in my neck of the woods,” Marsha Hugart-Townsend said from the back section of the building. “I’ve always wanted to do hair and I’ve been living my dream for 36 years. When I was a kid, I would cut my doll’s hair and my poor cat always had a flattop.”
Flattops aren’t popular for cats, but they’re very popular for the residents of Summersville, Bradley’s father, Brad, said.
“We do a lot of flattops and we’re one of the few people who can do them right,” Brad said. “It just takes a ton of practice. I’ve been here for 38 years and I’ve been the second chair that entire time. I’ve done quite a few flattops in that time.”
Over the years, styles have come and gone, but nothing was a bigger enemy to a barber than The Beatles, Bob said.
“They about put us out of business,” Bob said as he trimmed the back of a customer’s head. “People just let their hair grow; there was no style to it. When that was big, no one got haircuts and a lot of barbers closed. We never did like The Beatles.”
In the 1970s, hair came down halfway on the ear, Bob said.
“There was that, and in the ’80s, it was long in the back and came off the ears, kind of like a mullet,” he explained. “We did a lot of bowl cuts in the ’90s and now we get a lot of fades and military-style cuts called ‘high and tight.'”
Townsend Barber Shop sits right at 721 Main Street in Summersville, so people ask for directions pretty often, Bob said. The business is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. You can come in earlier because Bob shows up as early as 5 a.m.
“I’d say not for folks to make a habit out of showing up that early, but I often have people who show up early before work,” Bob said. “I’m not complaining. My wife is aggravating me to retire, but I have to have something to do.”
Information from: The Register-Herald, http://www.register-herald.com