Conover resident Don Beal, 62, has been cutting hair nearly his whole life.
He trimmed his friends’ locks in high school in the late 1960s, attended Charlotte Barber School in 1970, studied under Kostas Melissaris at The Hairstyling Institute of Charlotte, and then worked in a Newton barbershop for a few years before opening his own place, The Hair Connection, in Conover, 30 years ago.
Even with achy feet and back, he’s just as happy to plug in the clippers and work his scissors as he was when his friends wanted hairstyles like the Beatles.
Beal not only enjoys being a barber, but he respects the profession and its members. That’s why he’s pleased that he’s now one of five members of the board of directors of the North Carolina Board of Barber Examiners.
On July 21, Gov. Pat McCrory appointed Beal, along with Steffon Sharpless of Durham and Valerie Willis of Raleigh, to the board. David Hood of Newton, whose barbershop is in Charlotte, has been on the board since 2013. Lance Crumley of Pinnacle, also appointed in 2013, rounds out the group. Beal pointed out that Sharpless is not a barber. He’s known as a “public member,” a person, according to Beal, who offers “a patron’s point of view.”
Beal said he’s wanted to be on the board for a long time. “I want to help set the rules and regulations,” he said. “I want to help my profession, especially for the future.”
To be considered for the board, Beal completed a lengthy application, including explaining why he wanted to serve, provided a resume and endured an interview process. Charles Duckett, the N.C. Director of Appointments, Office of Boards and Commissions, reviews the applications and makes recommendations to the governor.
The barber board meets every other month and oversees the barber industry in the state, said Beal. That industry includes 38 barber schools with some 2,000 students, 6,273 barbers, 748 apprentice barbers, 2,534 licensed barbershops, and four inspectors who make twice yearly visits to each shop.
“Every barber inspector parks at the back of your barbershop and walks in your front door unannounced,” said Beal.
The inspector visits The Hair Connection’s front door is a Duke fan, “so I have to be a Duke fan for 15 minutes, and that’s not easy,” Beal joked.
The barber board’s responsibilities include the certification of barber apprentices and barbers and the requirements to attain those certificates; barbershop and barber school permits and the criteria for earning them, such as meeting acceptable sanitation conditions; reviewing barber licensing laws; and adopting regulations related to the chemicals used in barbershops.
To be a licensed barber in North Carolina, a person must attend barber school, pass a test to be an apprentice, work as an apprentice under a registered barber for 12 months, take another exam to be a registered barber, and then secure a license.
But, barbers do not have to take continuing education classes to remain licensed. Beal thinks they should, especially in the areas of health and disease. He said he’s advised many clients to see a dermatologist after noticing worrisome places on their scalps or around their ears.
And there’s the health of the barber to consider. “When you subject yourself to (broken skin), you could infect yourself and contaminate others,” said Beal, who suggests barbers periodically take classes to update themselves on the latest health news and safest practices.
Beal still recalls the first time he heard about HIV/AIDS in the 1980s: “The day HIV was discovered, no physician at all would let a barber use a razor around the ears or neck. They said, ‘Just take the clippers and cut it close.’
“At that point, there were so many unknowns about the disease,” Beal continued. “I like to care for people. The more you know, the more helpful you can be.”
Beal said it’s impossible to know exactly how many clients he’s had or even has now. “All barbers would like to know their total number of clients,” he said, “but people come and go.” Beal said he might cut a person’s hair and then not see that person again for six months.
Other clients appear every few weeks without fail, such as Joe Beaman, an executive vice president of Peoples Bank.
“I’ve gone to his barbershop for over 35 years for haircuts,” said Beaman. “Who, other than Don, would meet you in his shop on a Sunday morning and get you ready for your daughter’s wedding scheduled for later that day?”
“I cut a fourth generation the other day,” said Beal, saying the 2 1/2-year-old is the great-grandson of one of his clients.
In 1970, when barbers still “peeled your head like an onion,” as Beal described, he listened to what his friends wanted in a haircut and provided that service. Now, he feels privileged to have the chance to use his 44 years of experience to make barbering in North Carolina as professional, up-to-date and safe as it can be.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Beal.
Beal is married to Clydie Beal. They have one son.