College Village Barber Shop to close after 55 years
An odd silence filled the room at College Village Barber Shop.
For generations, barber shops — not today’s frou-frou salons, mind you, but those old-school barber shops that reek of pungent hair tonics and aftershaves and Barbicide and certain old men — have always been noisy.
Electric trimmers and lather dispensers humming almost constantly. Barbers shouting “Next!” as they snap their plastic capes to shake off stray hairs from the previous customer. Men of all ages — men who go to barber shops as much for the camaraderie as the haircut — swapping tall tales and loud laughter.
After more than half a century of such noise at College Village, though, it has come to this: Thursday morning, owner Steve Petroff sat in a barber chair at the rear of the shop, his 70-year-old legs propped up to keep them from swelling any more than necessary, as he watched a small, droning television on the wall.
“It’s been quiet this morning,” he acknowledged with a smile. “Sometimes I’ll have several customers come in at once, and sometimes it’s like this.”
This time next week, the barber shop will stand completely silent. Petroff, who has worked at College Village since 1994 — and manned it by himself for the past year — has decided to close. The last day will be Monday or Tuesday.
“I regret having to do it,” said Petroff, a stout man with neatly trimmed, gray hair, “but I’ve seen so many barbers before me who just kept working and working. My father-in-law (Carroll Johnson, one of the shop’s four founding barbers) didn’t quit working until he was about 80. So I’m thinking, most people get to retire when they’re 65 or even 60 — why should we not have the same benefits?”
Nagging pains and a nagging cardiologist, both telling Petroff to stop spending so many long hours on his feet, made the decision easier for him.
A gradually declining clientele also contributed to the shop’s closing.
“Used to be when you came in here, the walls were lined with customers waiting, and barbers at every chair,” he said, explaining the shop had six chairs during its heyday.
Today, two of those six chairs have been sold and removed from the building. Two more chairs have been sold but not yet removed, another chair remains for sale — $700, if you must know — and the last chair will go home with Petroff, where he’ll put it in an outbuilding and continue cutting hair for those longtime customers who just can’t bear the thought of trusting their hair to another barber.
Also going home with Petroff will be the iconic red-white-and-blue-striped barber pole outside the entrance — the original pole from the shop’s founding 55 years ago — which he plans to put up on his outbuilding.
“Everybody started saying, ‘Where am I gonna go? What am I gonna do?’” Petroff said. “One of my lawyer friends was in here yesterday, and he said, ‘You’re my barber, and ain’t nobody gonna cut my hair but you.’ So I’ve been giving them my number, and I’ll just let them call when they need to come, and I don’t have to just sit there all day waiting for somebody to come in.”
As Petroff spoke, Jack Reece wandered into the shop in need of a haircut. Reece, of High Point, figures he’s been patronizing College Village Barber Shop for a dozen or more years.
“I don’t know where I’m gonna go,” he said as Petroff snipped at his hair. “I’m gonna have to get a recommendation from my friend here.”
Reece chuckled as he thought about all the good-ol’-boy good times that have been shared at College Village.
“It’s too bad there weren’t any recordings when some of these fellas in here started telling wild tales and making up truths,” he said.
Petroff laughed, too, before adding softly, “I’ve got a whole bunch of memories here.”
The barber shop opened in November 1959 with the development of College Village Shopping Center. Now, it’s the last of the shopping center’s original tenants to close.
Petroff worked two brief stints at the shop during the late 1960s — separated by a 10-month tour of duty in Vietnam — before running Oak Hill Barber Shop on English Road for about 24 years.
He came back to College Village for good in 1994, when his father-in-law invited him to fill the spot of a barber who was leaving. As other barbers retired — men like Ray Cecil, Ed Durham, Charlie Ward and Petroff’s father-in-law, Carroll Johnson — Petroff remained.
Now, he’s leaving, too, and another old-school barber shop will fall silent.
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