After coming home from the Korean War, Henry Jones needed a job.
It would take him three years to find one, but once he did – he stuck with it.
He was in Durham in 1956, still looking for work, when a man stopped him to ask for a cigarette. Jones gave him one, then asked what he was doing there. The man told Jones he was a barber student, and that if Jones were military, the army would pay for him to attend barber school.
“So I went on in and I signed up to be a barber,” says Jones. “Never thought about being a barber in my life.”
Sixty-two years later, now 86 years old with gray hair and a mustache, Jones has completed a successful barber career, closing his little shop off Commonwealth Avenue on July 28.
“I don’t even have words to explain how great this neighborhood and the people out here in this neighborhood been to me.”
Jones was a country boy from outside of Raleigh before going into the army. When he came back, he knew one thing was for sure: He did not want to go back to work on the farm.
After getting a nine-month barber education, Jones started his career working the second chair, as he puts it, of “Old Man” James Funderburk’s two-chair shop at 3304 Commonwealth Ave.
Jones says the two of them developed a father-son relationship. When Funderburk passed away in 1967, the family gave Jones the shop, he says, and he moved over to the first chair – a barbershop custom of seniority.
Jones’ barbershop is a space stuck in time. Dennis Easterling, who has been going to Jones for haircuts since he was 7 years old, is now 67. He says the shop has not changed one bit.
“Funny about everything in his shop … little calendars, little signs and the bubble gum machines, and the cracker jars and stuff that he held on to for all these years … They were the same bubble gum machines he had down there when he started,” says Easterling.
“The whole place, when you walk through the door, looks like it did in 1957.”
A collection of knick-knacks sit in the corner of the shop, next to and on top of a vintage Pepsi machine. The machine itself is covered in photos of his family.
A poster of NASCAR driver Danica Patrick, whom Jones refers to as his girlfriend, hangs on one wall – despite, says Jones, his wife’s correction, “No, I’m your girlfriend.” A week before Jones closed shop, a customer brought him a signed picture of Patrick that he proudly shows off.
Military items also crowd in among the memorabilia, including a grenade Jones assures visitors does not work anymore. All these lead to memories and stories.
Easterling’s favorite stories to hear growing up were Jones’ tales of his fighting days, as an artillery sergeant.
“He would tickle the devil out of me talking about ... his experiences over there,” Easterling says. “Driving Gen. MacArthur across the river because he had the only vehicle that was big enough to get him across … Using their helmets to shave and take baths out of.”
Jones also has stories from the barbershop, like when a tall blond woman walked in, during his early days, and asked for a buzz cut.
“The old man said, ‘No way in hell will I cut a flat top.’ I said, ‘I’ll cut her a flat top.’
“I took the clippers, went up the side of her hair. Long blond hair hit the floor,” says Jones. “Beautiful girl with a flat top, with high heels and real bright red lipstick. That was the funniest looking thing I ever saw in my life.”
John Winstead, 68, began coming to Jones for haircuts in 1991, and says there are two moments he will never forget with Jones.
One was 9/11. Winstead says, “Everybody can remember where they were at when 9/11 happened. I can always say I remember where I was at: sitting in Henry’s chair getting a haircut.” Jones’ wife had called and told him to turn on the news. Jones turned the TV on just in time for he and Winstead, the only people in the shop, to watch as the second plane hit.
But Winstead wanted to add a second, positive memory. So he made sure he was Jones’ last customer, on his last day. “I had gotten a lot of haircuts there. And I hated to see him go. So I figured I’d have something to remember him by, by being the last paying customer.”
Neighbors will miss Jones’ shop and his $10 haircuts. Easterling says he can’t remember a time when Jones was not inside his shop, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
“Sometimes I’d go down there and there would be some of the old fellers, much older than me, that would just come in and just sit and have a Coca-Cola or whatever and talk to Henry just because they’d want to talk,” says Easterling. “I got to a point where I did that the last two years … I would drive down the street and go in there and talk to him, just to see what he had to say.”
Political conversation was one topic that was off limits in Jones’ shop, though. “I never heard him say a harsh word about anybody or anything like that. And you couldn’t talk politics with him. He didn’t care about that kind of stuff,” says Easterling. “He said all politics do when you start talking to other people is get your blood pressure going.”
Jones says he is going to miss the shop, and most of all his friends, but does look forward to spending time with his wife, four children, nine grandchildren and two great grandchildren. His wife and he have been married for 62 years – they tied the knot six months after he started cutting hair. His wife had wanted him to retire for some time now, he says, and when the county offered to buy the land, Jones and his wife decided that this was the best time.
Jones says now he plans to go to the beach, fish from his boat, and work on his tomato garden. The most important lesson he learned from these past 62 years? “Be nice to people. Be nice to them and they’ll make a living for you … I’ve been nice and they’ve been good to me. That’s all I know to do.”