End in sight for the S Carolina barbershop’s 79-year run
GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — It was around this time 50 years ago that Wilburn Fulbright took up the shears and went to work on his first customer at the Dunean Barber Shop.
Fulbright, 26 years old at the time, won’t hazard a guess at how many heads of hair he’s cut since then. By my estimation, it must have been somewhere in the neighborhood of 125,000.
That’s a lot of hair!
And if you add how many heads his brother, Tommy, and father, Doyle, have serviced since 1962 when Doyle bought the place, that’s a heap of snipping been going on in this historic building.
Each haircut represents a whole lot of gabbing, too.
“We’ve done solved all the world’s problems, several times,” said Tommy Fulbright, the younger brother in this partnership. He has only 28 years behind the barber chair.
“Wilburn taught me everything I know,” Tommy said. “It took about 15 minutes.”
Tommy is full of one-liners. Wilburn is the storyteller.
It’s not hard to imagine all the colorful chapters of history that have been lived out between these walls since the shop was built by Dunean Mill on Greenville’s Westside in 1939.
World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Civil Rights Movement, hippies, rock ‘n’ roll, the computerization of America and the rise of Donald Trump — all have been hashed over here, ruminated and personified through the lives of the men who came through the door for a haircut and a friendly word.
Some of the regulars have decades of memories there.
“I had dark brown hair when I started coming up here,” said a white-headed Jerry Sparks.
I got the feeling that some of the same jokes have been circulating all through the years, too. Melvin Shaw kept telling me he didn’t want people to know where he gets his hair cut, and I almost took him seriously until Wilburn chimed in.
“He’s been coming for at least 40 years trying to get a good haircut and he said it ain’t happened yet,” Wilburn said.
The shop has been operating continuously through all those years and has changed not one bit, according to Susie Fulbright, Wilburn’s wife and author of a memoir on the place.
“There was a time in history when barbershops were the center of a community and when these barbershops were historically a place where men have gotten together for not only a haircut but for social interactions, to discuss church, news, politics, weather and joke telling,” she writes in her self-published book.
“It was a real setting for the exchange of ideas and a multitude of opinions.”
Sounds sort of like what people say about the Internet nowadays.
Dunean Barber Shop is like a living museum. There have been no updates, upgrades or uploads in all that time, from the solid wooden front door (complete with a screen door) to the green and white checkered tile floor and lone ceiling fan, to the antique wooden chairs customers sit in while waiting their turn.
Floyd’s Barbershop in Mayberry was modern by comparison.
The original cash register, still in use, predates the shop. It’s a 1931 model, according to the sales receipt taped underneath it.
This shop doesn’t even have a telephone. Don’t bother trying to make an appointment. Just come in when you have the time.
There’s still a shower stall in the back, though it’s not been used lately, where men used to take a 25-cent shower after a long day in the mill.
A shoeshine stand, an artifact of an era when men actually wore shoes that needed to be shined from time to time, sits idle against the back wall as if waiting for just one more customer who will never come.
I can’t think of another business anywhere in Greenville that has been in operation continuously for that many years, especially without changing.
But the Dunean Barber Shop’s final days may not be far off. The 79-year run could be coming to a close within a couple of years. The last of these cultural icons of a bygone era is on the verge of fading away.
Wilburn owns the building, which once included a drug store, a café and a community recreation room. Now, the other sections are all rented out by the Everlasting Covenant Church. The building pretty much represents the entirety of downtown Dunean, if it had a downtown.
Susie has already retired from her job as a nurse at Patrick B. Harris Psychiatric Hospital in Anderson, and Wilburn figures he’ll probably hang it up in another year or two.
He has as much sentimental feeling for the old shop as anybody, but when I asked, he told me he doesn’t plan to stand in the way if whoever he sells it to wants to raze the building and put up something else.
I don’t blame him for wanting to get the best return on his investment in the property. But I would hate to see Greenville lose this living relic.
Barbering apparently isn’t a going profession like it was in the day when Doyle Fulbright moved here from Franklin County, Georgia, to attend a barber school on Main Street in Greenville because he saw that “you could make money at it.”
In 1941, he opened a barber shop at the Southern Railway Depot and then worked at one in Judson Crossing before buying a shop next to Woodside Mills. Wilburn and Tommy shined shoes there as boys.
Although he’s younger then Wilburn, Tommy doesn’t figure on continuing in the shop after his brother lays down the clippers.
“There’s nobody else to take over the barber shop,” Susie said.
Information from: The Greenville News, http://www.greenvillenews.com