60-year-old downtown barbershop plans to stay the same

Wednesday, August 16, 2017
Barber Penny Hilburn gives a customer a precise haircut using hot lather and a straight razor, what she and fellow barber Nathan Spiva say are the hallmarks of a traditional barber. Julia Kilmer/reporter@cassville-democrat.com

Barbers share history, facts about barbershops

It’s been said that some things never change, and in the case of Rex Stumpff’s Barber Shop at 609 Main St., where it has been serving customers since 1974, the saying holds true.

With the Cassville Main Street Association advising businesses to update their buildings to spark the revitalization of the downtown area, Stumpff said he does not plan to change much.

Barbers Penny Hilburn and Nathan Spiva focus on giving their clients precise haircuts. The red, 1950s-era chairs have been in the shop since 1974, when Owner and Barber Rex Stumpff moved to that location at 609 Main St. The shop also has, and still uses, a rotary-dial phone. Spiva said a lot of hairstyles have come and gone, but once men find a cut they like, they usually stay with it. Julia Kilmer/reporter@cassville-democrat.com

It’s not because he doesn’t want to jump on the bandwagon with other businesses, like Attorney Blake Fields next door who recently completed a major remodel of his building.

It’s for another reason entirely.

“It’s tradition,” said Stumpff, who is retiring after nearly 60 years in the business and says old-time barbershops are the new trend. “It’s about the old-time barbers now. That’s what we’ve been for 60 years, so I don’t think we’ll make any major changes. People like the older-style barbershops. And, we’d have to raise prices [if we did make changes].”

Barber Nathan Spiva takes a break outside Stumpff’s Barber Shop in downtown Cassville, while waiting for customers, most of whom come in on a walk-in basis. The shop recently added an awning, which they got from Attorney Blake Fields next door, who recently remodeled his building. But, that’s about all the changes the shop plans to make, as Owner Rex Stumpff and his staff say old-fashioned barber shops are becoming very popular, and they’d like to preserve the tradition, charm and feel of their shop. Julia Kilmer/reporter@cassville-democrat.com

The shops $12 a haircuts are combined with a little old-style charm and tradition.

“We’d be looking at $18 to $22 for a cut, and people aren’t going to pay that, especially in a rural area, so I’d rather keep it like it is and keep the business intact,” Stumpff said.

“The old time barbershops are coming back full force,” said Laura Driver, Stumpff’s daughter and cosmetologist next door at J&L Hair Fashions. “If you look at the Springfield area right now, they’re going back to the old-time barbering. I think dad is the only one in town that still offers the hot shave. He’s barbered for 56 years.”

Stumpff’s barbers, Penny Hilburn and Nathan Spiva, agree.

“If you modified it, it would take away the small-town charm of the place,” said Spiva, who grew up in Cassville and got his hair cut at the shop as a boy.

“Barbershops are on the up-cycle with the younger barbers,” Hilburn said. “They are trying to reproduce the tradition.”

“Springfield has a lot of trendy barbershops, but they don’t have that same feel as older shops do,” Spiva said.

Going to the barber has been something boys and men have done for decades.

“Rex says he remembers coming to town on Saturday to get a haircut, groceries, and if you were lucky, see a movie as a little boy,” Hilburn said.

“Saturday was a big day for the rural families,” Spiva said. “That’s why I like it here. It reminds me of traditions.”

“Years ago, men came here to get a shave because they didn’t have electric razors then,” Spiva said.

“The businessmen would come once a week or so back in the day,” Hilburn said.

Barbers shave necks with hot lather and use a straight razor,” Spiva said. “You can get closer shave than with clippers.”

“It makes you feel clean,” Hilburn said.

“Getting a barber haircut and shave was a special deal,” Stumpff said. “We used to do a lot of shaves. That’s a traditional part of our work.”

Barbershops have a long and unique history.

“Barbers used to do a lot more than just cut hair,” Spiva said. “They did bloodletting with leaches, and pulled teeth.”

That’s where the barber’s red-white-and-blue pole originated.

“They would put their blood-soaked linens outside and they would wrap around a pole in the wind. In those days, people couldn’t read, so that would be a sign they knew there was a barber there. The white stands for the cloth or bandage, the red, for blood, and the blue, for veins. The pole is said to symbolize the stick that a patient squeezed to make the veins in his arm stand out for the procedure.”

Barbers are one of the only traditional trades left that still garner long-term loyalty.

“I’ve got customers I’ve had for 50 years,” Stumpff said. “And, they’re still with me.”

“Some of our customers are in their 90s, and tell you how much a haircut was when they were a little boy,” Hilburn said.

“I cut kids’ hair of people I went to high school with now,” Spiva said.

Both Hilburn and Spiva enjoy their jobs and the customers.

“You never know what each day will be like,” said Hilburn, who has worked at the shop for 12 years. “You get to know the customers. My favorite thing is finding out how people end up here. A lot say they came to Roaring River as a child, or their parents came here and liked it. I think having a woman here makes mothers feel more comfortable bringing their boys in.”

“Some days, you’re backed up all day, other days, you sit,” Spiva said. “I don’t plan on being anywhere else. Downtown Cassville is where I want to be.”

As a byproduct of Fields’ renovation, the shop did make one change.

“They took Blake’s awning and utilized it,” said Carolyn Bishop, president of the Cassville Main Street Association. “Blake helped prompt that.”

“It was the just the right size, to the inch,” Fields said.

“Blake was going to do away with it and ours was falling in,” Driver said. “He asked dad if he’d like to have it, and Johnnie Hilery put it up. They did a fantastic job. It completed the building and made it look like it originally did.”

“It makes this whole street look better,” Hilburn said. “That and the new sidewalks and street lights.”

“I’d like to see a lot of the other downtown businesses get fixed up,” Spiva said.

From the shop’s well-worn checkerboard game in the sitting area to its 60-year-old cedar coat and hat rack that was in the original South Side Barber Shop where Stumpff started his career, to its 1950s-era red barber chairs that have been in the shop since 1974, its 1930s-era mirrors of business advertisements still bearing their original switchboard telephone numbers, and its old-fashioned rotary phone that is still used, the shop hasn’t changed much in five decades, and isn’t planning to.

“I wouldn’t change it for nothing,” Spiva said.

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