In Hudson, the oldest public forum is still the one that comes with a trim

Mar. 09, 2014 @ 09:34 AM

Inside a small, brick building in Hudson, over the sound of scissors slicing into hair, the conversation flows without stalling, as it has for 45 years.  

Opened as Hall’s Barbershop in 1969, under owner Stanley Hall, the building serves an identical purpose today. It’s now Andy’s Barbershop, operated by Andy Johnson, a barber who got his haircuts at Hall’s as a kid.  

But calling Johnson a childhood customer of Hall’s is probably underselling the relationship. Hall is the one who encouraged Johnson – then a driver for Caldwell Freight Lines – to take up barbering, after Johnson told him (over a haircut) that he needed something new.

Johnson quit his job and went off to Winston-Salem Barber School, then spent a year as Hall’s apprentice. In 2001, Hall retired after working as a barber since 1957, when haircuts were 75 cents apiece. He turned the shop over to Johnson, who changed the name of the business – but not the spirit of it.

Both Hall and Johnson – and David Greene, who works at the shop alongside Johnson – are barbers of the old style, haircut men who pride themselves on knowing the name of each customer – and the wife's name, and the mother’s besides. Johnson’s customers, like Hall’s before them, come in for some conversation with a haircut on the side.

“There’s nothing like the environment in a barber shop,” Hall said. “You can walk in on a political debate or hear the latest town happenings. It’s so much more than a haircut, it’s an open forum to discuss anything on your mind.”

Hall, now in his 80s, still comes in regularly to get his hair cut and talk. He still recognizes the customers and, as Greene and Johnson do their buzzing and trimming, will make his way over to the stand and strike up a conversation.

He remembers all the old cadences, all the old words. “Well, how have you been getting along?” the conversation begins. And later, as the customer leaves, it’s, “Take care,” as they’re lingering to keep the conversation going, backing toward the door. These are ancient layers of conversation, stacked as high as the ceiling, gathering in repetition over the swish of the broom in the background.

This is the atmosphere they’re cultivating – Johnson, Greene and Hall before them.

“To me, what a man likes to hear is his name called out when he walks in the door,” Johnson said.

A few things are different, of course. When he moved in, Johnson remodeled, making renovations that reflected his love of music, and Greene’s. There is exposed brick, fresh paint, chrome accents and framed records on the wall. And the old crowd, the ones who shot the breeze with Hall in the 1960s and '70s, are starting to pass on.

But the barbering continues. The scissors slice and the hair falls to the ground and the conversation floats into the air – just as it always does. Just as it always has.