Old-fashioned cuts the norm at Beamon’s
Stepping into James Beamon’s Harding Street barber shop is like stepping into a different era.
He has been cutting hair since 1952 and is one of the few places that still offers men a shave with a straight razor (for $8) and ladies a $6 shampoo. When asked if he had ever raised his prices, Beamon said, “Of course. I was cutting hair when it was 25 cents.”
Sterling Tripp is a regular at Beamon’s.
“I’ll tell anybody, he gives the best haircuts in town. He takes his time and is very articulate,” Tripp said. “He’s from the old school.”
Beamon’s Barber Shop is closed on Sundays and Wednesdays. He started taking Wednesdays off in order to drive to Wilson and have his straight razors professionally sharpened. His Wilson connection passed away, but Beamon kept the Wednesday schedule — and the straight razors.
“I’m not a young barber anymore,” he said. “I could do it all if I wanted to. It ain’t like I was born old.”
Beamon said he gives the customer what he wants, whether it’s a shave with the straight razor or an electric one.
“I try to accommodate them. But when you use an electric razor, the next morning, you need another shave,” he said.
Barber Kendall Hart works alongside Beamon.
“This is something incredible to me. I’m going on four years here. I have never seen him cut anybody. That’s pretty awesome,” Hart said.
He said Beamon was exciting to work with and loved to talk. He described Beamon as a humble man with a lot of energy.
The 82-year-old Beamon said he has no intention of retiring anytime soon.
“I’ll be around as long as I can see something, use my hands and stand,” he said.
He advised anyone interested in opening a barber shop to consider partnering with someone. You share the burdens and expenses.
He had another piece of advice.
“You’ve got to love it and you’ve got to be committed to it,” Beamon said. “It ain’t like you’re going to get paid just for coming to work.”
Beamon said he has worked since he was 9 years old. He decided to become a barber because he wanted a career, not just work.
“I was young. I thought I was gonna burn the whole world up. And a barber, he could go most anywhere,” he said.
Growing up in the segregated South, Beamon had another reason for career path.
“I decided I’d do something I could do the rest of my life and wouldn’t have to work with whites,” he said.
Ironically, Beamon’s first job out of school was at a Greenville barber shop owned by a white person and catering to white clientele.
The job confirmed his desire to work on his own.
“If they wanted to say ‘nigger,’ they’d say it. If they wanted to say, ‘old black boy,’ they’d say it. I had to get out of there,” Beamon said.
He continued working for other barbers and building his savings in order to start his own business. Beamon is a veteran but he chose not to take advantage of the G.I. Bill or a small business loan. He said the banks would have scrutinized his finances and figured he was not a good investment.
His American Dream finally came true in 1977 when he built Beamon’s Barber Shop at 210 Harding Street.
He said he could not do it without the help and encouragement of friends and family. He called the encouragement gifts and favors from God and said few people accomplish anything on their own.
“Alex Haley had a sign with a turtle on a fence post. How did it get there? It had some help,” Beamon said.
The biggest obstacle to progress, in Beamon’s opinion, is that those who have had success are unwilling to share their knowledge or advise others.
When he can get young people to listen, Beamon likes to tell them to go for their dream job, not just another 9-to-5.
“One thing I tell young folks, ‘If you have a dream, don’t have an expiration date,’” Beamon said.