Erie barbershops abuzz with customers, conversation
By MATTHEW RINK, Erie Times-News
Mar. 08, 2018
ERIE, Pa. (AP) — Bruce Anderson grew up the middle child among nine boys. He remembers his aunt visiting his house one day and scolding him and his brothers for looking unkempt.
?'You boys need haircuts,'" Anderson recalls his aunt saying. "'Go get some clippers.'"
At age 12, Anderson wanted to be a singer and make records when he grew up. He never imagined that picking up those clippers at the urging of his aunt would result in a long career as a barber.
"I didn't know it would lead to all this," said the 41-year-old Anderson, who is the head barber for Boss Cuts at the southwest corner of Parade and East 26th streets. "God put this in my life, I really feel that.
"It almost seems like you're making someone's day," he added. "Little kids come in, and they want certain kinds of haircuts. They are so happy when you're done. It kind of makes you feel like a hero."
In neighborhoods throughout Erie, long lines and crowded sitting areas are a common sight at many barbershops these days. They serve as hangouts or "man caves," as Anderson put it, where conversations run the gamut, from politics and sports to school and home life. Anderson and barbers like Donald Heidelberg of Dapper Don's Styling Lounge say the kinship that's long been a staple inside barbershops transcends age, race and socio-economic status. Anderson said Boss Cuts draws a "multicultural" crowd, including many "family men" and their sons. Heidelberg said he's served people from all walks of life — students, police officers, school principals, doctors, lawyers and elected officials.
"It's a gathering spot," said Heidelberg, who goes by his middle name, Craig. "It's a place where you can have a good conversation or get a cup of coffee."
Heidelberg opened his shop a year ago after being laid off from his job working a CNC plasma-cutting machine. The husband and father of four was tired of the instability of working for others. He wanted to be his own boss, so he opened Dapper Don's in another high-traffic area at Peach and West 26th streets in the Independence Hill business district.
On a recent Thursday evening, as rain poured down outside, 10 people gathered inside Dapper Don's. One barber meticulously worked clippers on one young man's head while another barber trimmed around another customer's ears. Hip-hop music spilled from speakers at the far end of the shop, while the chatter of talk-show hosts came from a TV perched on the wall next to a mirror.
Heidelberg greeted Merrell Timmons, 42, with a firm handshake as he walked through the door. Timmons has been coming to Heidelberg for a trim for years, long before he opened his shop.
"You get good service, good vibes and good energy when you come in here," Timmons says.
That's the atmosphere Heidelberg has aimed to create, he said.
But Heidelberg said he feels more than just a connection to the immediate community he serves. He feels an obligation, too. He points to a sign in his window that reads "Community Begins with Me."
He serves as a member of the Blue Coats, a group of schoolyard peacekeepers that was born out of anti-violence initiative. He's also forming a group of his own called Men Building Men, a mentoring program that will serve at-risk youth and men released from jail who need help getting on "the right path."
Heidelberg and the barbers who work for him also occasionally provide free haircuts to people, especially parents, when they know they're in a financial jam.
He's not alone.
Shops such as Michael's Hair Salon and Heads of State Barbershop have in recent years given free haircuts to kids before the start of the school year. Boss Cuts does, too, Anderson said, to show appreciation to its customers.
"If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't be here," Anderson said.
It's not the act of trimming hair that Anderson cherishes as much as the relationships he's built with his customers over the years. At Boss Cuts, Anderson said he feels an affinity with the community beyond the three-year-old shop's brick walls.
"I asked myself the other day, am I important to this neighborhood?" the 1988 East High graduate said. "Would they miss me if I left? I think they really appreciate us."
Information from: Erie Times-News, http://www.goerie.com