Still holding forth in his cozy shop in Nitro, 75-year-old Donald Boggs will mark his 55th year of barbering in February. "I'm into the fourth generation with some of these people," he said.
NITRO, W.Va. -- In February, Donald Boggs chalks up 55 years of barbering.
At one time or another, virtually every male in Nitro, babies up to great-grandfathers, has crossed the threshold of Boggs Barber Shop.
They linger, despite the wait, because, well, it's a barbershop -- a social hub, a place to chew the fat. "Barbershop talk," he calls it.
He grew up in "paradise," otherwise known as Ivydale, and Nitro is as close to city life as he cares to get. At 75, he's still just a country boy, a simple man with a hankering for hunting and fishing.
He didn't like barbering when he started. Obviously, something clicked along the way.
"Most young barbers ...
... wear anything now. ...
... I always wear my smock."
Growing up with four brothers, Donald Boggs treasures this solitary picture with his mother.
The Clay High School yearbook for 1955 includes this senior photo of Donald Boggs, known to classmates as "Toddy."
In this prime-of-life picture, Donald Boggs takes a break on the exercise bike.
"I grew up in Ivydale, Clay County. My dad opened a garage there in 1928. He had five boys and not one of us was a mechanic. My dad was too good. He expected perfection. He was one of the best there was.
"In the high school yearbook, I wrote that I was going to be a barber. I don't know where that came from. My dad started to barber school in Cincinnati and didn't like it, so he went to school in Detroit to be a mechanic and came back and opened a garage. He always cut our hair.
"I graduated from Clay High School in '55. I went to Glenville, but the second week there, my cousin came to the door said I had to get home. I had a brother just out of the Navy and he got polio in the neck. They thought it was killing him, but he survived two or three years.
"Anyway, I got so far behind in school. And college wasn't for me. My brother was going to State. He saw Felix Warren who was over the barber college. I enrolled in February of '57. I got out in February of '58.
"When I went to barber college, I lived in Orchard Manor. I want you to know that was the finest place in Charleston. Everybody was in the same boat. Nobody had any money, but it was a fine place to live.
"Before I got out of school, I was what they call a jackleg. I wasn't supposed to work, but I needed money. I worked in the Arcade Barber Shop on a Saturday without my license. I worked from 8 to 2. Haircuts were a dollar. I'd clear about 12 or 13 dollars. We were busy in there. They did shaves, too. I never could shave people very well.
"I didn't like barbering, but I had a wife and baby, and I had to do something, so I stayed. I worked at Busby's Barber Shop on Quarrier Street two or three months, then worked for a guy in St. Albans a month or two.
"I came to Nitro in June of '58 to work for a guy named Ernest Payne. He had a shop on 23rd Street. I left Payne's in '71 and I've been right where I am since then. This shop was called Cisco's when I came.
"I never got less than $1.25. Most shops were $1, but I started at $1.25. There were a lot of flattops back then. And you did tonics. We don't do tonics now. We used to use a vibrator on their heads. I've still got one, but nobody wants that now. They don't even know what it is.
"We had to learn to give shaves, shampoos, facials, everything you could do in a barbershop we had to learn in school. Nobody asks for a shave anymore. I'm probably the only barbershop in Nitro that still shaves around your ears. They don't use a razor anymore. I still do. I've got a lot of old people, and they expect it.
"I have cut people's hair for 50 years, four generations I've cut.
"I work Wednesday through Saturday, 8 to 5 Wednesday through Friday and 8 until 3 on Saturday. Wednesday is probably the busiest day. Sometimes it's Saturday, but Saturday isn't the barbering day it used to be. Used to be everybody got a haircut on Saturday. They're using their Saturdays for other things now.
"I'm gonna have to retire, but I don't know what I'm going to do. I enjoy my work now. If I didn't, I would have quit a long time ago. I got people who expect me to be here.
"People come in and there will be five people here, and they know they will be there two hours, but they will stay. They like to talk. Barbershop talk. I hear a lot of stuff. Politics, everything. I get complaints I talk too much. People tell stuff to a barber they wouldn't tell anyone else.
"I get people from all over, Kanawha City, Culloden, Buffalo, Sissonville. A guy moved to Culloden who used to live here. He comes back for me to cut his hair. So yep, Boggs Barber Shop. It's known around.
"My haircuts are cheap, $9. I was going to raise it a few years ago, but my wife said no. She said times are too hard to raise it. I will go a day and never cut a $9 haircut, if you know what I mean. I get a few $20 haircuts.
"Most young barbers wear anything now. I always wear my smock.
"When Charlotte Pritt was running for governor, she stopped in my barbershop to campaign. I cut her nephew's hair when he was in Poca.
"I was supposed to go yesterday to cut a man's hair. I do that for my good customers. I went to Poca about three weeks ago. This guy, I'd been cutting his year for years and years. I cut his hair right before he died.
"I've given a lot of first haircuts. I've been in quite a few pictures. Every first haircut is free. The kids cry and carry on. I can't take it like I used to. My ears. Too old. And the way they move. I can't keep up with them.
"I let a man sleep in here for six years. He had no place to stay. He died right here. Had a heart attack. He only had one leg. I had a sleeping bag for him. And I bought his supper every night.
"I've got three kids, two girls and a boy. I've had a real good life. I tell people in the barbershop that I didn't realize it then, but I grew up in paradise. In Ivydale, I had the river to swim in, and the creek. I had possums and skunk to hunt at night, and squirrels and rabbits. It was a good place to grow up.
"I've got a place up in Ivydale, and I go up there and fish every now and then. Other than that, I never really had hobbies. That's one reason I stayed barbering.
"I was a country boy, and I will die a country boy. I don't want to go to any other state. You couldn't give me a place in Florida.
"I've never flown in an airplane, and I don't have a hankering to do it. I will leave this old world without flying. My wife has been to Argentina, New Zealand, everywhere, and I never went anywhere. My dad only flew one time in his life. I like West Virginia."Reach Sandy Wells at email@example.com or 304-348-5173.