In a town dominated by sleek salons and modern motifs, there’s a barbershop in Old Munichburg that’s still using a rotary phone.
“We put some fresh paint on the wall and hung a few pictures, but I started getting nervous when we took down the deer heads,” says Chris Carwile, owner of Southside Barber Shop. “Some guys have been coming here for decades, and they don’t like change.”
In 2018, Chris partnered with fellow barber Matt Ross and purchased Southside.
“This place has been here since 1908, and we wanted to keep it going,” Matt says. “And, frankly, we both wanted a place to work.”
One of the first things you’ll notice about Southside is the spinning barber pole that’s mounted by the door. The iconic red and blue stripes pay tribute to the Middle Ages, when barbers were also surgeons, using their skill with sharp instruments to perform a number of surgical procedures. Not only could they shave your beard, but they could also pull your teeth, set your bones, and treat your wounds. The pole itself is said to represent the stick that patients were given to squeeze in order to make their veins visible for procedures such as bloodletting.
Of course, the art of barbering has changed significantly. They will no longer pull your teeth, but barbershops themselves have always been considered a place for public interaction and open debate. It doesn’t take long at Southside to see how the barbershop can become a microcosm of politics and social issues within the community. It isn’t uncommon for the wait chairs to be occupied by folks that are just there to talk.
‘This place has been here since 1908, and we wanted to keep it going.’— Matt Ross
“We used to go there with dad when we were kids,” says patron Douglas Parris, who has been getting his haircut at Southside for more than 40 years. “Dad would get his hair cut while the barbers teased us about liking girls. That’s back when they still had Playboys on the windowsill.”
Back in the early ’80s, the archbishop offered the shop’s previous owner a substantial amount of money to discontinue the shop’s subscription to Playboy. This offer was ultimately declined.
“It was a different time back then,” says barber Lonnie Taggert.
They’ve seen a lot of social mores come and go at Southside. With more than 113 years under its belt, Southside Barber Shop has survived both world wars, the Great Depression, multiple pandemics, and even managed to outlive the long-hair fads of the ’70s and ’80s.
‘We used to go there with dad when we were kids.’— Douglas Parris
“I started cutting a lot of women’s hair back then,” Lonnie says. “They all wanted to look like Farrah Fawcett. I got so dang tired of feathered bangs.”
A patron of the shop himself growing up, Lonnie has been working at Southside since 1980.
“I remember coming to this barbershop with my uncle when I was a kid and thinking I’d eventually work here someday. I’ve been working here for 40 years now,” he says.
Lonnie started his career in the ’60s, when haircuts were only a dollar.
“I remember thinking I’d be rich if they ever went up to five dollars,” he says. It currently costs $15 for a haircut at Southside, and Lonnie claims he still isn’t rich — yet.
Like Lonnie, several of the “old timers” at Southside have been working there for many years. These are the Greatest Generation barbers who grew up during the Great Depression and began their trade after World War II. Many of them have cut hair for three generations of patrons. The barbers have become confidants, friends, and father figures to many and have watched boys become men in their community.
This atmosphere, that of the old-school barbershop, is part of a culture that has been vanishing in recent years. These little independent bastions of manliness are being replaced with sleek men’s salons and chain establishments. You would never know this after spending an afternoon at Southside, though. There’s a constant flow of traffic and the never-ending sound of clippers and dad jokes.
“Old Munichburg, and the neighborhoods around here, have gone through a lot,” Lonnie says. “It hasn’t always been good, but the community never gave up on us. They’ve always supported the barbershop. We’ve been lucky.”
When you ask the barbers at Southside why they’re CITY’s Best, they’ll likely just stammer for a few minutes with no answer. Just like the barbershop, they are humble and without pretension. The barbers simply describe the place as a working man’s barbershop. Everyone that comes through the door comes in as an equal. It doesn’t matter if you’re a janitor or a legislator — you pay the same price and get the same treatment.