Mr. Buddy” Adams’ given name is Lynward, but to his longtime customers at the Family Barber Shop at 8112 Oak St. off Carrollton Avenue, he has always gone by his nickname.
Adams’ customers go back decades. “In October of 2011, I will have been a barber for 65 years – and I’ve been married the same time,” he says. He met his wife, Alverta, while he was in barber school. “I was born two blocks from [the shop] in 1923; most of my life was right here except when I was in the service and when I first got married.” He has been at his present spot since ’66.
Now Adams is in the shop on Tuesdays and Fridays. The barber keeping the shop open the rest of the time is Ed Serpas. (“I don’t know if I’m related to the police chief or not,” Serpas says.)
Serpas is of a younger generation. “I think these barber chairs are older than I am,” he says. He appreciates the atmosphere of the shop and works to keep the traditional look. “We have a barber pole in the window – actually there are two barber signs on the doorway, the old porcelain signs. I’m reworking the electric ones.” Although his 16 years in barbering have been elsewhere in Louisiana, Serpas grew up in Little Farms, and began shining shoes at a barbershop in Airline Park, giving him another link to Adams.
“I started at my father’s shop on Oak Street, two blocks down. Shining shoes, 10 cents a shine,” Adams laughs. “Ed and I both started at the bottom, and we’re at the top now. We skipped the middle.”
Adams’ barbering equipment has changed over the years. “I started out using a squeeze clipper – still have that hanging on my mirror here, my dad’s set and my set.” However, one barbershop fixture won’t be found at the Family Barbershop: a spittoon. “My father had one at his shop, I never had one here. Worst job I ever had, cleaning the spittoon.”
“Hair cuts change, like neckties or lapels,” Adams concedes. “The young men are getting it all taken off when they start to get bald, they’re not getting a hairpiece – that’s very wise.” Adams credits Serpas with doing a good “high-and-tight, Marine-style” haircut.
Serpas recently did a crew cut on request and, while he may prefer standard cuts, “I’ve put Saints emblems on guys’ heads – I keep up with the styles.”
A longtime New Orleans barbershop downtown is the Whitney Barber Shop, located in the Whitney Bank Building at St. Charles Avenue and Gravier Street.
Brothers Tony and Guy Trippi preside over the shop. Tony Trippi took over the shop in 1969, and at that time the shop was in the basement of the building. After Hurricane Katrina, “a water main in the building broke and we had 4-and-a-half-feet of water,” says Trippi.
“I lost all my barber tools downstairs, all my chairs, all kinds of things. The Whitney came to our rescue and took care of everything. Whitney people are great people,” Trippi says. The barbershop is now on the fifth floor, and the changeover to Hancock Bank has had no effect. Trippi says that the banking executive in charge of the Whitney section comes in for a regular haircut.
The Monteleone Hotel barbershop, now at 625 Bienville St., has moved around in the hotel, according to Pat O’Connell, who has operated the shop since 1977.
“In ’41 it was right at the front entrance, then they moved it where meeting rooms are now, and then they moved it to the garage building where I am now.” Some of the equipment in the shop at present dates from the ’50s, so there is definitely a traditional barbershop atmosphere. O’Connell’s clientele is loyal: “I have some customers, I’ve cut their hair for 40 years, longer than I’ve been here,” he laughs.
Both O’Connell and Trippi received their training at the old New Orleans Barber and Beauty College, once located in the Loew’s State Theater Building at 1106 Canal St.
There was an early New Orleans Barber College, located on Decatur Street, advertising in The Times-Picayune in 1908. Barber training in the United States received a boost in the 1890s when a Chicago entrepreneur named A.B. Moler opened a franchise of barber-training centers. By 1927, there was a Moler Barber College in the Loew’s State Theater building, but by ’58 the New Orleans Barber and Beauty College was at that address advertising itself as “formerly Moler College.”
In 1966, toward the end of its existence, the New Orleans Barber and Beauty College was calling itself “the Largest and Finest in the South.”
Jimmy Adams, currently head of the Louisiana State Board of Barber Examiners, is another product of the old New Orleans Barber and Beauty College.
According to Adams, Louisiana barbers are subject to stringent sanitary regulations in their shops and must go through training. State Inspectors make sure the rules are followed.
James Moore is a New Orleans-based inspector. “We look for cleanliness, make sure the barbershops are using the right sterilization, we are here to protect the public health. And we want to make sure everybody is certified and licensed,” he says.
Besides being an inspector, Moore still works as a barber on weekends at his It Can Be Done barbershop at 3052 General Collins Ave., in Algiers.
State Board head Jimmy Adams still works at his shop in Bogalusa. “It’s an information-packed business. I’m talking to people all day long,” Adams says. “It’s the best.”
For Serious Cut-Ups
Want to brush up your home barbering skills – or are you thinking about a career? Presently there are two schools for barbers in New Orleans: Park Place Barber College at 3224 Gentilly Blvd., 342-2533; and in Algiers, Stevenson’s Academy of Hair Design, 401 Opelousas Ave., 368-6377. Louisiana Technical College in Hammond offers barbering courses, and Technical Department at Delgado Community College, at 475 Manhattan Blvd., in Harvey, 671-6800, may offer courses in the future. Learn about the Louisiana Barber Apprenticeship Program by visiting ufcw496.org, or by contacting UFCW Local 496, Suite 202, 2901 Ridgelake Drive, Metairie, (800) 872-9594.