CATEGORY: Itawamba County

AUTHOR: EILEEN

HED:Fulton barber has been trimming hair for half a century

By Eileen Bailey

Daily Journal

FULTON - Willard Conwill gets straight to the point when it comes to why there are so few barbers these days.

"When the Beatles came to America there were nine barbers in Fulton. Today we only have three," said Conwill, who was almost 18 years old when he began cutting hair. "Before they came, it was unheard of for a man to go to a beauty shop to get a haircut."

Conwill, who has been a barber in Fulton for more than 50 years, said he is seeing fewer and fewer young people become barbers.

But despite decreasing numbers of barbers, Conwill said his customer base has remained steady since he began cutting hair. On an average day, Conwill will cut about 15 heads of hair.

"I've been cutting hair longer than any other barber in Itawamba County," he said.

For years, Conwill operated his barbershop in the downtown area. Four years ago, he decided to cut back on his hours and moved his shop to a small one-room building on the eastern edge of town on Main Street. Before the move, he worked six days a week. Now, he works 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. four days a week - Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

A spinning barber pole greets customers as they step into Conwill's realm. The shop consists of one chair that holds center court. There is a sink along one wall and a cabinet on the other. Opposite the barbers chair is a row of seats for customers.

A pen-and-ink sketch taken from a photograph of Conwill giving a cut to a 2-month-old child hangs on one wall. The youngest recipient of a haircut from Conwill was 6 weeks old. The oldest customer he had was 103.

The haircut

Clippings of hair pool at his feet as he begins the cut, which costs $6. Conwill will use a variety of clippers during the cut, depending on the customer's hair. A well-used coffee cup holds a soapy concoction he uses around the customer's ear as he shaves the hair with a straightedge razor.

A steady hand pushes the razor sharp edge across the skin above the customer's ear, taking with it any stray hairs. Conwill repeats the step, wiping the soap-covered razor on his hand to remove the excess soap until he is satisfied with the shave.

He jokingly tells his current customer that he may have "nicked" a few customers in the past but he never hurt them so bad they had to seek medical attention.

The cost of the cut also includes an eyebrow trim if it is needed. Conwill used to offer a shave for customers with the straightedge razor but he no longer does that.

In addition to a cut, his customers, many of whom have been going to him for years, enjoy the conversation.

"We used to talk about politics a lot," Conwill said. But today the topics reach many subjects.

Customer Pete Pierce of Fulton, who has been using Conwill since 1983, said customers hear "some real good stories."

"He (Willard Conwill) takes care of me OK. It's a real nice visit," Pierce said.

Conwill, an Itawamba County native, grew up the son of a farmer. He said he can't remember why he became a barber but he knew it was something he wanted to do.

"To me it's just a living I make," he said. "I really enjoy the people."

When asked how long he plans to continue barbering, Conwill said he'll keep at it for a while.

"I'll do it as long as I'm able, but I don't think I'll be here another 50 years," he said.

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