MATTHEW ROBERTSON Morning News
FLORENCE, SC – The barber to the mayors of Florence since David McLeod – not to mention the renowned athletes who found their way to Florence – ended his 57-year barber career and closed a barber shop that was at least 120 years old when he and his wife left Patriot Barber Shop for the last time on Friday.
The boutique, which started out at the Hotel Sanborn in Florence, will go up for auction one piece at a time in the near future, said Dan Phillips.
It moved to its current location on the south side of Evans Street near the Coit Street intersection in 1957 – at least that’s what Phillips said he was told.
It only started in 1966, as the United States approached a pivotal period in hairdressing history.
But to appreciate the story – and Dan Phillips has a lot of it – you have to go back to 1964, when he began his career as a barber at a Dargan Street store.
“I started in the third chair and climbed to the first chair.” Phillips said of his old store. âI came here in 66. The man who ran it, his health was bad. He said, “Whatever reason I have to quit, I’ll give you the first chance to buy it,” because my brother worked for him in ’63.
âWhen I came here in ’66, we had 13 hair salons within a mile and a half, and they had an average of four chairs per salon. (the owner of the store) died in 1968. His wife told me what she wanted for the store.
Phillips said he went to his bank – he cut the bank’s CEO’s hair – and was turned down for a loan because, with the advent of long hair, 3,500 hair salons per month were closing across the country.
In the end, the previous owner’s widow funded the purchase and Phillips was in business.
âAt the time, there was only one hair salon in Florence that had five barbers, and that was Frank Ward at the Florence Mall,â Phillips said.
âA lot of the older barbers said they weren’t cutting long hair, and they stopped,â Phillips said. “I was doing cosmetology shows with my wife, so I knew how to work with long hair.”
It’s all about people and their hair
Phillips is quick with a smile and a laugh. Fifty-seven years as a barber have left him with stories about some of his favorite customer experiences – and his clients.
One such encounter occurred on Memorial Day, 1965, when four men entered the barber shop. When his chair was opened, the last of the four stepped forward to have his hair cut.
âI ended up cutting David Pearson’s hair,â Phillips said of the late NASCAR driver.
âIn the late 1970s when the Holiday Inn was on Dargan Street, the receptionist called and said a man needed a haircut, and they sent him.
That man turned out to be Leo Ernest Durocher, the late infielder and coach who ranks fifth in the major leagues for all-time wins, second in the National League behind John McGraw.
âHe stayed here for about an hour signing autographs and talking to people,â Phillips said.
âThe most interesting man, I wish I could remember his name, he was retired and he was editor of the Chicago Tribune, and he was a reporter during the Al Capone era,â Phillips said. . âHe told us wonderful stories.
He also cut the hair of many mayors of Florence.
“I cut Mayor McLeod’s hair, then Robin Fowler’s, then Haigh Porter, then Mayor (Frank) Willis – we always cut his hair – and then we cut the mayor (Stephen) hair. Wukela. Cut his hair since he was in high school.
Then there were the children.
âI wish I had taken a photo of every kid’s first haircut,â Phillips said. He did it with some, and they’re “over there” in the back of the store.
âI have people who I gave them their first haircut and I gave their kids their first haircut,â he said.
Work in their own museum
One of the original electric mowers hangs from one of the store’s many hat racks. It was designed to be hung between barber chairs so that two barbers could use it, but only one at a time, Phillips said.
Look at this wall. It’s marble. The counters are marble, Myrtle Phillips said of one side of the store.
The wall, mirrors, worktops and cupboards are taken out of the Hotel Sanborn.
Barber chairs were also sourced from the hotel.
Then there’s the huge hat rack at the front of the store, built by the same company that made the chairs, Dan said. If it’s not one of a kind, it could be close, he said.
On a sideboard in the store, there’s a box of hair tonic bottles that have been around since the ’70s, Dan said. The design of the display, however, could indicate that the bottles predate the 1970s.
The seller, Dan said, marveled at what his company had sent and offered to take them back. They stayed.
This is the color they should be, and it’s light discolored, Dan said, holding a bottle of tonic from the back and comparing it to a bottle of tonic in the front. The colors don’t even come close to the match.
And that’s just evaporation. They were never opened, he said of the tonic missing from several of the bottles.
There is a shoe polish box on the floor in the store and a shoe polish stand in the back room, Dan said.
There is a cabinet of old barber tools that are no longer in use in the store, and possibly more in use elsewhere.
A box of lightly used monkey sticks dating back to the store’s earliest days is on hand, and a rack of empty soda bottles, mostly anyway, can be found in the store.
– a relic from the days when there was a soda machine that sold glass bottles.
A low-to-the-floor dining table holds a collection of magazines, and a draftsman sits to the side in the waiting room, right next to a flat-screen TV.
Customers were like family, closing like a funeral
Myrtle showed a photo of a barber and a beautiful woman in the barber chair that a customer who hadn’t been in the store for 20 years found somewhere and gave the couple a gift.
âThese are exactly the kind of clients we have,â she said. “They are like a big family.”
The parents of two children whose haircuts the couple gave them a Christmas decoration at church.
âAnd we kept it,â Myrtle said, showing it off from her proud spot in the store.
The couple have a 50-year-old Christmas tree on the back that they take out and use every year, she said.
âIt means a lot because these two little boys have grown up and become very successful people. The father was here yesterday to say his goodbyes,â Myrtle said.
âWe planned to take the plunge and not tell anyone. It was like a funeral, âMyrtle said of customers stopping to say goodbye. âWe had a client today who was a 57 year old client. They are upset. “
The couple slowed down last year, taking more time to socialize in the store and spending less time on the hair.
âPeople come in sometimes and just play checkers,â she said.
When they retire, Dan and Myrtle plan to travel while they are still young enough to enjoy it.
Dan will be 79 in August; Myrtle is a few years younger.
She says she wants a VW bus with flowers painted on the side for travel and on America’s back roads.
Dan said he planned to take his clients to two other barbers in town only to find their stores had closed.
Ultimately, Florence’s hair will be in good hands with places like the Mailroom, a new hair salon in Florence, he said.
âI don’t know what’s on the next corner, but we’ll take care of that no matter what,â Myrtle said as she wrapped a cake a customer had dropped off. She and the cake were heading home.