Barber enjoys life in the people business
By M. Scott Morris
TUPELO – Larry Barnett’s a working man. He’s been one most of his life.
As a kid, he attended Shannon High School, where he also worked as a janitor. The principal came to him one day and asked a question.
“He called me Barnio. He said, ‘Barnio, what are you going to do when you graduate?’” Barnett, 71, recalled.
“I said, ‘I don’t know.’
“He said, ‘You need to think about a trade.’”
The principal, Bodine Bourland, often drove Barnio home after his janitorial duties were finished, and they sometimes stopped at Grubbs Barber Shop in Shannon.
During one of those visits, Barnio had his principal’s question in mind.
“I said, ‘This is what I want to do. Y’all are cool in the summer and warm in the winter time. I believe I’ll go to barber school,’” Barnett said. “That’s how I got going.”
He’s spent more than 50 years in the barbering business. He started out on Spring Street at the Hotel Tupelo, followed by a move to Robert E. Lee Drive, then onto South Gloster Street until he had to move out to make room for a McDonald’s.
Now, he’s on Southside Drive, tucked behind the Salvation Army building off Daybrite Drive.
“They keep finding me. The clients I’ve had over the past 50 plus years have been faithful people,” Barnett said. “This is a people business. People make the world go around, and they’ve taken care of me and my family.”
And he has quite the family. He and his wife, Helen, had four children, though two daughters have died. They’ve also adopted seven children and have had 99 foster children.
“I can’t preach and I can’t sing, but me and my wife have been raising foster children for 26 years,” he said. “A lot of them need special attention. A lot of them appreciate what you do.”
Many of their charges over the years still keep in contact through phone calls or on Facebook.
“We love children,” Helen Barnett said, “and we want to try and help them get on a better road.”
As Barnett sees it, part of his responsibility as a foster parent is to teach kids what Sundays are for.
“We make sure the kids are at church,” he said. “That’s important.”
Six days a week
Barnett said it’s his job to handle things at the barber shop, while his wife keeps the trains running at home.
“That’s about the size of it,” Helen Barnett said.
Sundays are his only day off. Monday to Friday, he opens the shop at 5 in the morning and stays until 5 p.m. On Saturdays, he’s also there at 5 a.m. and leaves at 12:30 p.m.
When he started, he charged 75 cents for a regular haircut and $1 for a flattop. There’s not much call for flattops these days.
“Now, I charge $10. A lot of folks have got three or four kids. You’re taking $40 or $50 out of their grocery bill, and that’s something,” he said. “A lot of shops charge more than I do. That’s all right. I make a living. I don’t owe anybody anything.”
He usually eats a biscuit and drinks Diet Coke in the morning, and he reads a chapter from an old brown Bible each day.
But the early hours aren’t always alone time.
“You’d be surprised how many guys are up and moving at that time of day,” he said.
The shop is filled with the tools of the trade, including multiple clippers, shears, shampoo, styling gel, combs and hairdryers, as well as a bucket of Dubble Bubble gum for kids and adults who ask.
“I’ve got one customer who comes in here. I call his wife the Bubble Gum Lady,” he said. “I always send her a handful of bubble gum when he leaves.”
His chair isn’t the original from the Hotel Tupelo location, but it’s been around for a while. It’s got an ashtray from the smoky days when the barber shop could’ve used a foghorn.
“It’s not about the chair. That’s just where the client puts his bottom,” he said. “The one who stands behind the chair is the one who does the work.”
After more than half a century, Barnett doesn’t get nervous at the prospect of cutting someone’s hair, and he’ll give clients whatever they want. Keep it long? Or trim it short?
“It’s all the same to me,” he said, “and it’s their head.”
He keeps Fox News or sports on the shop’s TV. He’ll talk about fishing and hunting, or politics if that’s what the client prefers.
“You remember their names. That’s the first thing, and you remember where they work,” he said. “It’s not hard to remember people who are feeding your family.”
Barber shop etiquette doesn’t always have to be polite. On a recent Monday, a man Barnett called “one of the best friends I’ve got” came to the door.
“Come on in, Fat Boy,” Barnett said.
“Who are you talking to?” said Larry Beasley, a 68-year-old Tupelo resident.
“Get up in that chair,” Barnett said.
“How’d your doctor’s visit go the other day,” Beasley said.
“It came out all right,” Barnett said.
“I came from a doctor’s appointment today,” Beasley said.
“Are they going to let you live?” Barnett said.
Beasley’s been visiting Barnett for some 20 years. It’s a quick trip for a haircut and shampoo, and the pair manage to squeeze their fun out of it.
“If you do any more up there, I’ll be so good looking it would take two sticks to beat the women off,” Beasley said before heading for the door.
After his client left, Barnett shook his head and said, “Beasley’s something else. He’s a good ol’ boy.”
‘The place to be’
In addition to his Tupelo location, Barnett has a barber shop set up at his house in Shannon, so work can follow him home.
“I guess I’m a workaholic,” he said, “but I’m happy with what I do.”
Barnett said the barbering business has done right by him and his family.
“You don’t make a lot of money. You don’t have a retirement, except what you put up and Social Security,” he said, “but if you enjoy being around people, this is the place to be.”
As an added bonus, Barnio has been cool in the summer and warm in the winter for 50 plus years.