Pick a category — Barber Shops — and look under that same heading in each directory. One by one, names drop off the list. But after 30 … 40 … 50 … 51, 52, 53 years, the only name that survives is “OK Barber Shop.” The 2002 edition of the business directory is the latest copy on the library shelf, but 10 years later, OK Barber Shop is still in the same building, at 21 Church St., S.E., between Meagher & Meagher and Bradley County Agriculture Extension Service.
Reid Evans and George Robinson moved the shop to its current Church Street address in 1949. Upon Evans’ death on July 10, 1998, he left the shop to Laura Nelson.
“It’s the oldest barber shop in town that’s still working,” Nelson said Tuesday afternoon. “It was down the street, down where the New Life Church is. It was in that parking lot there. Reid said the church wanted more parking. There was the OK Shoe Shop and a grocery store right beside it.”
Former Bradley County Trustee Jute Miller works at the shop two days a week.
“This is the oldest shop in Cleveland I know of right now,” he said in a different interview on Wednesday.
Miller, 73, started working for Evans and Robinson in 1960. He learned everything he could from the two men before moving north of Inman at 67 Church St. N.E. to open Jute’s Hairstyling Shop in 1969. He operated it in two locations before closing shop.
“It was the first men’s hairstyling shop,” he said. “I had driers and everything. I had a tremendous business, too.”
It was simply a matter of business that caused him to leave Evans and Robinson. He charged $2.50 for a haircut as opposed to $5 for hairstyling.
“I had men under hair driers that I never would have thought,” he recalled. “I had a little private section in the back.”
He stayed at the Church Street location about eight years and then moved into a little house near the Little Old Fort Restaurant (Ist Street Diner) at 464 1st St. N.W. At the urging of his immediate predecessor Red Dockery, Miller ran for Bradley County Trustee and won. He remained in office 28 years.
“I kept one of my shops after I was elected. Bob Green ran it until he had a stroke and then I closed it,” he said.
After leaving office, he returned to where he began 52 years earlier at OK Barber Shop with Evans, Robinson and another man named Tom McDowell.
“Mr. Tom retired and I came in here one day to see George about getting my hair cut,” Miller said. “I’d cut hair when I was out in the country on the front porch. I was just a jack-legged barber. I just worked around on Saturdays. I didn’t have any training, so I had to go to school.”
Robinson offered to hold the chair open for Miller if he would go to barber college. At that time, Miller worked for Tennessee Enamel Co., “and I didn’t like it” and was determined not to stay there long. He went to Tri-Cities Barber College in Knoxville and filled the vacancy six months later.
“I went to work with George and Reid. I got a lot of good training, a lot of good advice,” he said. “You learn a lot in a barber shop. You meet a lot of people and you learn to listen. You learn people. It was a good experience.”
Miller said he learned honesty and good work ethics from the two older men.
“They started me out and put people in my chair and told them I could do the work,” he recalled. “They were good to me.”
Haircuts cost 75 cents in 1960. Miller said he earned $60 the first week he worked.
“That goes to show you they had a lot of business,” he said. “We had an awful good weekend business,” he said.
Miller described Evans as one who was well read and Robinson as someone who had common sense.
“Between both of them, I feel like I got pretty well educated,” the barber said. “I left on a good note when I left. They were nice to me and in return, I wanted to be nice to them.”
It’s impossible to know how many more business directories in which the name “OK Barber Shop” will remain.
“Old-fashioned barber shops are fading out,” he said. “I still shave people’s necks if they want it. I still use a straight razor. That’s something you never forget.”