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Small and Friendly barber hangs up his clippers

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Charles Small didn’t intend to retire when he closed his Parkersville barbershop nearly a year ago.

The closing was supposed to be temporary, giving him time to deal with some health issues. But after more than 50 years of helping folks look their best, he’s hanging up his electric trimmer.

It wasn’t an easy decision for Small, 72, but after some difficult months, his family convinced him it was for the best.

He’ll make it official Saturday with a drop-in celebration his children are throwing to give Small’s customers a chance to see him at the shop again and wish him well.

“He’s a wonderful guy and a lot of people have missed him,” said Small’s daughter, Yvonne Campbell. “We didn’t want to go from temporarily closed to just being closed without the community and customers knowing.”

Small will be holding court in his barber’s chair at Small and Friendly Barber Shop from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

This will be Small’s second retirement. He retired 10 years ago from Georgetown County School District maintenance. He’ll try to make this retirement stick, but “I miss it already,” he said.

Small is described as a man of few words.

“He doesn’t talk much, but what he says is solid,” said Small’s wife of 48 years, Geneva.

That’s part of his appeal, according to friend and customer Norman Reid.

“Some barbers, they just like to talk, but that’s not his way,” Reid said. “He just gets what he has to do done, unless you’ve got a question or concern.”

Small said part of that is because he never liked gossip and tried to keep it out of his shop with some help from the television.

“The first thing I do is turn on the TV, and if they get louder, I turn the volume up,” Small said.

Small, who lives in Parkersville, not far from the barbershop, said he was about 15 when he decided how he wanted to make his living. He’d stopped in at Friendly Barber Shop on Carver Street in Myrtle Beach for a hair cut and was fascinated by the shop owner as he cut hair and raked in money.

To Small’s young eyes, the money the barber took in seemed like a fortune.

“I had just left off the farm and was quite interested in that,” Small said.

So right out of high school, he entered barber school, then apprenticed under Jerome Thomas, the same barber he’d watched while waiting for that fateful hair cut.

Small worked for Thomas for several years and they remained friends until Thomas died a few years ago.

Small experienced another life-altering moment in Friendly Barber Shop in 1961, when the woman he would marry and raise four children with walked in for a trim.

“She was the prettiest girl I’d ever seen,” he said.

He refused to cut her hair, telling her it was just fine the way it was, Geneva recalled.

When they ran into each other at a Myrtle Beach club soon after, he approached her and asked her to a movie, then before she knew it, she was meeting his family.

Eleven months later, they were married.

“We just fell in love,” Geneva said.

When Small left Thomas’ employ the same year he met Geneva, he went into business for himself, incorporating the name of Thomas’ shop with his own last name for a moniker he thought customers would find welcoming.

For more than 20 years, the shop has shared a building with Norman’s, a community hangout Reid opened to give local kids a safe place to enjoy themselves. The space in the back that was Small’s barbershop is like the rest of the building, devoid of frills.

Within the shop’s blue walls are an old, brown barber chair in front of a small work area where the tools of Small’s trade are still neatly arranged.

A television in the corner and a handful of chairs lined up along the walls for waiting customers complete the decor.

Though the barbershop has its own entrance, customers often went back and forth between the two businesses, enjoying games and a burger at Norman’s before or after Small worked his magic.

The transformation barbers perform on their customers was one of the things Small said appealed to him most about his career.

“A person can get in the chair looking kind of ragged and come out looking good. I like that,” Small said.

Small also liked just being around his customers, he said. Though he didn’t like gossip in his shop, he didn’t have a problem talking about hunting and fishing, two of his favorite pastimes, with customers including Roscoe B. Brown.

A longtime customer, Brown was in Small’s shop just before he closed and bragged about Small’s fishing skills as much as his barber’s skills. He said he’d sometimes go in for a haircut he didn’t need, just because he had a new tale to tell.

Small said fishing and hunting will be large components of his retirement, along with completing the honey-do list his wife made him the last time he retired.

Reid said he wishes Small well in his retirement, but he was saddened by the news Small won’t return, and not just because he never had to tell Small what he wanted when he climbed into the barber’s chair.

When they were both at work and neither was busy, they’d often sit outside and “just talk and look at people going by.”

“I don’t think you could find a nicer gentleman,” Reid said. “I’m going to miss him being here, I’m telling you. It’s not going to be the same without him. ”

Since Small and Friendly closed, Reid said customers have been asking about Small. They miss him, too, and Geneva said several of them have called him at home or dropped by to ask about him.

The sentiment is returned, Small said. He’s been seeing many of his customers for years or even decades. Some started coming in as children and Small watched them grow up and start bringing in their own children.

His career has had its trying moments, he said, which included squalling toddlers reluctant to be in the barber’s chair and older customers who came in after a few drinks too many and passed out in one of the shop’s chairs.

“You can’t wake them up, so you just have to leave them alone,” Small said.

But despite those little bothers, Small enjoyed his career and the people it brought into his life.

“There are some very nice people in this community,” Small said. “I’ve enjoyed being around them, and I just want to thank them. It’s been amazing.”

Small is looking forward to seeing his customers and others from the community at Saturday’s celebration, at which everyone is welcome.

“I haven’t been in the shop for about five months, so I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

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