Joseph Hurley came from North Philly around Erie Avenue. Bobby Hopson drove Interstate 95 from Delaware. And Joseph Butler walked in from around the corner – all the final touches to James A. Rice closing the West Philadelphia barber shop his father started 70 years ago. It was to cut and say goodbye.
Rice opened early on New Year’s Eve, responding to the constant stream of customers who came in for the last cut, sharing a farewell toast and mourning the loss of a beloved neighborhood establishment.
Butler said he didn’t want to hold a grudge against Rice, 75, who retired after cutting his hair for 60 years, but was at a loss as to how to replace Rice’s environment. His father before him worked at Rice’s barber shop on her 5700 block on Media Street.
After moving from Germantown four years ago, Butler needed to find a place to get his twice-monthly haircut and stumbled upon Rice’s Barbershop. “I came in and really, really fell in love.”
Now he’s wondering if he can replace the one he found at Rice’s Barbershop.
“Where next? I don’t want to go to a Jitterbug shop,” Butler said, referring to barbershops with young barbers and customers.
Hopson, who has shaved his head since COVID-19, has joined the revelry and can’t even remember when Rice first started cutting his hair. Indeed, it was in his 1981 that he discharged from the Navy, but he thinks it could have been earlier in his 70s.
“It was like family. It was a lively place with lots of laughter. It’s a social space that can’t be replaced.”
Rice began cutting hair at age 14 and apprenticed with his father before obtaining his license at age 18. “It didn’t matter [me being able to say] number. Let’s just say I was inspired. ”
He cut his hair while at Overbrook High School. He cut his hair while attending Cheney University. He cut his hair while West was teaching social studies at Philadelphia High School. He cut his hair when he completed his two master’s degrees. One in management, the other he in primary education. He cut his hair after retiring from the Philadelphia school district 15 years before him.
Along the way, Rice has learned that to make a barbershop feel like paradise, you must discover what your customers want and take the time to make them feel respected and comfortable. I called. In the process, according to Rice, the barber shop prospered.
“If you provide a service, the money will come in. And if you’re consistent with it, your business will grow. You can’t get rich, but you can grow.”
“I remember when I had to take a number and bring my lunch,” said Keith Brown, a crowd who frequented the store. Mr. Brown has been a customer for about 24 years. “The barber himself would solve your personal problems. It was more than just a barber shop.”
Barbershops are becoming more important as sites to reach and engage black men because of their casual and inviting atmosphere. In discussing his store-based research, he states: The stories they tell are very intimate and personal, and this is where you want to be to help people deal with emotional and physical trauma.
“I was the first woman James cut,” said Jules Walker, who met Rice when she was attending Overbrook in the early ’60s. I remember going to barbershops and overhearing sports conversations. As a result, she surprised several barbers and she became a lifelong fan of her Dallas Cowboys.
As he sat in the bustle of the shop, perfecting his short style and draping a blue cowboy scarf around his neck, Walker also learned the importance of the barbershop as an attractive environment for black men. I see why they go to barbershops. They go to fellowship — to have spiritual fellowship.”
Rice’s 97-year-old mother, Mary, attended her eldest son’s retirement celebration as she was there the day the store opened in 1953. SC got black men in the 50’s.
So they came north.
In those early days, the family also lived upstairs in the store, which helped, recalls Mary Rice. “Haircuts were cheap back then,” she said, adding that her husband never entertained her idea of quitting.
They were also the first African Americans on the block. Mary Rice said there had been no hostilities, and in fact she recalled having a diverse clientele in her early years. She said, “He taught me to shave like her husband taught James. White guys were waiting for me to shave on Saturday morning.”
But within a year of opening, the block was almost exclusively black, as white flights took hold.
One thing that has remained unchanged is Rice’s Barbershop.
Rice said he was responsible for maintaining the community, but felt it was time to spend more time with his wife of 47 years, Linda, and look after his own well-being.
“As an individual, I get so caught up in serving that I sometimes lose myself,” Rice admitted, but the little barbershop has provided him with a very good life and friends he deserves for a lifetime. I added that it was given.