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Shepard's Barbershop
Cuts, camaraderie and a slice of Conroe culture
by Brad Meyer

As much as the city of Conroe has grown, the world evolved and technology grown over the years, one local business has remained remarkably consistent – providing the same service in the same location in a building that has changed little in nine decades.

Shepard's Barbershop as of November 2011

Shepard’s Barbershop, located at 116 Simonton Street in downtown Conroe, has offered traditional shaves and haircuts for the past 90 years. It’s also a popular melting pot for area residents to share tall tales and a wide range of views on the issues of the day.

“There have been more fish caught in the barbershop than are in Lake Conroe,” quipped owner Bob Shepard. “A lot of stories and opinions get tossed around in a barbershop – it can be an interesting place.”

The building was originally known as the “Little Jack West Building,” named for the man whose father built the Corner Pub building in 1911 following a fire that swept through and destroyed much of the downtown area, according to Larry Forester, chair of the Heritage Museum of Montgomery County.

While little is known of the building’s original use, Henry Williamson turned the 1,000-square-foot building into a barbershop in 1922. Little has changed since then, except the owner.

Shepard's Barbershop in downtown Conroe in 2006 that was originally known as the "Little Jack West Building" named for the man whose father built the Conroe Pub building in 1911.

Stovall Thomas bought the barbershop in 1938. He sold it to Warren Stubblefield in 1968. Shepard began cutting hair in Conroe in 1959, took over the shop in 1974 and eventually purchased the building in 2000.

“There are a lot of styling shops and franchise haircutting boutiques,” said Shepard, “but a lot of people appreciate the traditional barbershop setting and services – that’s what we offer.”

While barbers and stylists both cut hair, they are bound by different licensing regulations. Only barbers are permitted to shave around the ears, Shepard said. Hot towels and facial massages have diminished in popularity, but are still available. A few girls and women get their hair cut at the barbershop, though Shepard acknowledged his clientele is better than 95 percent male.

“But it’s a lot more than just getting a haircut,” said Shepard. “People appreciate the atmosphere, the interaction between the customers and the barbers.”

The cost of a haircut back in the 50s when Shepard started was a dollar. When the price eventually rose to $1.25, Shepard said he thought he was “rolling in it.” In the Vietnam era, when many young men let their hair grow long, a number of barbers in the area closed up shop sure that the future of barbering was dim.

“It’s not a quick path to financial success,” acknowledged Shepard, “but it’s a decent living and it’s interesting.”

The walls of Shepard’s Barbershop are a hodgepodge of photos, posters and artifacts that reflect both the history and whimsy of the community and bygone eras. Those who care to look around can see a poster from the 1958 fight when local boxer Roy Harris took on Floyd Patterson for the heavyweight title.

Photos on the wall include historical images taken in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, as well as snapshots of children getting their first haircuts – some who are now senior citizens with grandchildren they have brought in for their own first haircut.

“We have many generations of customers who have come to the shop for their whole lives,” observed Shepard. “You get to know people and it’s a good relationship. They know us and we know them.”

Working beside Shepard are Leon Apostolo, who has worked at the shop for 30 years, and Larry Skinner, a veteran at the barbershop for the past 18 years.

As a native of the Conroe area, Shepard has seen the town change dramatically. While he appreciates the variety in retail businesses and restaurants available to the pubic these days, he said the community has lost much of its small town feel.

“People used to be more open and friendly because you knew most everybody on sight,” said Shepard. “People could walk down the street and greet each other by name.”

Shepard is also disappointed in the decline of the downtown area. The lack of shopping, restaurants and services in the downtown area limit the amount of traffic coming to the area. A lack of free parking is also a factor, Shepard suggested.

“I think the city could work a little harder to get some retail businesses into the downtown,” he said. “We probably have enough law offices downtown.”

Still, Shepard is proud to be part of the downtown Conroe community. He doesn’t work as many hours as he used to, but he still has regular hours on Saturday to take care of his regular customers.

“It’s something I’ve been doing for years,” he said. “There are probably a few people in town who have never had their hair cut by anyone else their whole life.”

The Courier
July 8, 2012

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