A perennial struggle with parents is getting their young child into a barber chair for a haircut. In the 1940s, one unique barbershop in Johnson City came up with an imaginative way of dealing with this difficulty.
My parents regularly took me to the OK Barbershop at 117 W. Market Street, located across from Powell’s Department Store. The barber was Burton Stansberry. The hairdresser trimmed my locks while I straddled a carnival horse. The shop was possibly named after the OK Corral. Prior to 1939, it was located at 111 Buffalo.
Oddly enough, the barbershop also contained a jewelry store, C.E. Hale Jewelers, owned and operated by Clarence and Ruth Hale. The barber chairs were on the right as you entered and the elongated jewelry counter was to the left. The hobbyhorse stood motionless next to the window.
I vaguely recollect Mr. Stansberry as being a soft-spoken man with a knack for turning a hair-raising experience into a pleasurable one. I looked forward to my next trip in two weeks. This haircutter offered his young guests the option of sitting in a regular chair with a seat across the arms or climbing onto the horse. I always chose the latter. Before giving me a trim, the gentle barber began by asking me if I would like to feed his hungry horse. He preceded to hand me a tissue with orders to place it in the horse’s mouth. The paper fit snugly between the animal’s lips without falling out. It stayed there until it was time for the next youngster to get a haircut and feed the “hungry” horse.
During the next ten minutes of grooming, this witty barber chatted with me about subjects ranging from his horse to what I did for recreation. I was so mesmerized I hardly realized I was in a barbershop. After I became too old to sit on a carnival horse, I switched to another barbershop. However, on visits downtown, I regularly stopped by the OK Barbershop to gaze through the window at my old buddy. The horse was later retired but remained in the window for an extended period of time.
I started going to Bill’s (Garland) Barber Shop at 268 W. Market, former site of the Red Store. Bill frequently talked about the Little League team at Kiwanis Park that he coached. I enjoyed his lively conversations. Over the years, I frequented several area barbershops, one being (Clinton) Durham’s Barbershop at 700 Lamont Street, opposite the VA Center’s main entrance. He presented me with a moneymaking opportunity by encouraging me to charge a dime for impatient customers to go ahead of me. That helped pay for my 50-cent haircut.
Primus Dees, who worked at the Majestic Barbershop at 241 E. Main, cut my hair for a couple of years. Primus sold vacuum cleaners on the side, which he kept in a rear closet at the shop. I occasionally went with my father to the Palace Barbershop at 302 S. Roan (around the corner from Liggett’s Drug Store). Boyd Purdy was Dad’s favorite barber.
Other area tonsorial parlors from the mid 1950s included the Arcade (Arcade Building), Capital (144 W. Main), City (129 W. Main), Congress (119 E. Fountain Square), Empire (1017 E. Fairview), Hill’s (427A W. Walnut), Jack’s (1102 Division), John Sevier (204 S. Roan), J.S. Martin (121 Buffalo), Donald Messimer (923 W. Walnut), People’s (209 E. Maple), Sanitary (111A Spring), Smitty’s (115.5 McClure) and Windsor (104 Windsor Way).
If you recall a favorite clip joint or had your hair cut on the OK Barbershop horse, I would like to hear from you. I hope someone will recall the horse’s name, if he had one.