By Kristen Pope
Bob White walked into Friendly Barber Shop, donning a pair of overalls over a green plaid shirt, his mouth purple from the lollipop dangling in his hand, and announced that he was celebrating.
“Celebrating what?” asked Russ Sturdivant, the owner of the barber shop that occupies a small building on Main Street in Carrboro.
“Celebrating being in Chapel Hill,” announced Bob. Then he got his hair cut.
That’s how things work at Friendly Barber Shop, where a man can get a good conversation in addition to a trim.
UNC-Chapel Hill athletics posters hang on the back wall of the three-chair barber shop, and clips of hair, which Russ pushes aside with a big broom as he balances the phone on one ear, cover the wooden floor. Haircuts are just $13, there’s still a barber’s pole outside, and pictures of familiar clients, including former UNC basketball great Eric Montross with his famous buzz cut, cover the walls.
And suggestive of Friendly’s laid-back feel is the fact that there is no reception desk; men saunter in appointment-less, toss their jacket on the coat rack, pick up a magazine and wait for their haircut.
“It’s sort of an old-style barber shop,” Bob said.
Bob, from Pulaski, Va., works in remodeling in Chapel Hill and has been coming to Friendly Barber Shop for about 10 years. He said he continues to come because he got to know Russ.
“We joke around, so that’s fun,” he said. “Plus, Russ is always working on his house doing something, so we talk about that. We just consult.”
Russ said the people are his favorite part of working at the shop.
“I get to meet a lot of people. I know all the locals,” he said. “There’s a few that I really hit it off with.”
Friendly is different because it’s a place catering specifically to men. All types of men are drawn to the shop, Russ said.
“We get everyone from construction workers to professors, doctors, athletes,” he said.
Russ, who grew up in Carrboro and now lives in White Cross, just west of Carrboro on Highway 54, has owned the shop for 11 years, since his father, Grady, passed it onto him.
Grady Sturdivant started the shop in 1961, after Wade Brown, a barber who owned a shop on Weaver Street, convinced him to leave his job as a TV repairman to attend barber school.
Russ said Grady was working outside on a 30 degree day when Brown saw him and made the barber school offer. Grady accepted because it would give him the chance to have an inside job, and he learned how to cut hair in a Weaver Street shop that closed in the early 1970s.
Friendly Barber Shop has remained in the same location since Grady opened it.
Russ said he was not sure how Grady had the resources to start his own business, especially since he already had one child at the time.
“Apparently he knew the right banker in town,” he said with a laugh.
Russ was already working at Friendly when Grady died in 1999. None of Russ’s siblings wanted to take over the shop, and Russ said he probably wouldn’t have had he not already been helping his dad “slow down a little.”
In 1999, the Carrboro Board of Aldermen presented a resolution to the Sturdivant family, commending Grady for his 24-year career in the Carrboro fire department, his help in the formation of the South Orange Rescue Squad and for providing “the citizens of Carrboro and Orange County with humor, friendship, support, love and respect.”
Russ said that the business has been fairly consistent during the time he has owned it, despite the fact that Carrboro is a dynamic community.
“(It hasn’t changed) a whole lot really,” he said.
He said most of the other barbers nearby are places like Great Clips, and they don’t affect Friendly much.
Nancy Tivnan is Russ’s only full-time co-worker. Cecil Woolard, who worked at the shop for five years before he started his own shop in Haw River, still works at Friendly two days a week.
Nancy, who has been cutting hair for 22 years, used to live in Massachusetts and moved to Cary 11 months ago. She found out about Friendly from an ad in the paper and has been working at the shop for seven months.
She said she likes Friendly because “it’s low key.”
“It’s more down-home,” she said. “People come in and are like, ‘How’s your mom? How’s your dad?’”
She said despite the fact that Friendly is “kind of a guys’ place” and some men insist that Russ cuts their hair because they’ve “never had a girl cut (their) hair before,” it was easy to get to know the men who come into the store.
“They’ve all been very nice,” she said.
She said people keep coming to Friendly because of the shop’s history.
“It’s where their dad or grandpa went,” she said. “It’s been around so long. (Russ) cuts a lot of people’s hair that he went to school with.”
Russ said there is no doubt in his mind that it’s loyalty that keeps customers coming back.
“I still get customers from my father,” he said. “They’re just loyal to this place.”
“People around here are more geared to keeping everything local,” Russ said.
He said he also hopes that the good haircuts keep people coming back.
“Good conversation among the customers must have some draw,” he added.
Russ said politics is a common topic of conversation, and Nancy agreed, adding that those “crazy Durham kids” are a popular subject. She also said a lot of the guys are still farmers, so they commonly talk about the weather and when they can plant.
Nancy said places like Friendly are a rarity. There is more money to be made in full service salons and many other places are focused on just making the numbers, she said.
“It’s sad that there’s not more places like this around,” she said. “It’s a dying profession.”
“Here, it’s just a haircut and a conversation,” Nancy said.
Russ said he is unsure how long even Friendly Barber Shop will be around. He said he does not have any kids and cannot predict the future of the business.
“I’ll probably be the last,” Russ said. “I’m going to do it as long as I feel like I can. After that I have no idea what will happen.”