If you’ve ever watched “The Andy Griffith Show,” you likely remember the small-town charm and friendly banter of Floyd the Barber. Andy, Barney and the rest of their gang entered Floyd’s shop not just to get their hair cut, but to kick back and discuss life in a relaxed setting that was akin to an alcohol-free men’s club.
But in an age when most men flock to places like Sport Cuts and Supercuts to get their ears lowered, the magic rapport once offered by barbers has largely gone by the wayside. These modern shops are large and anonymous, with several barbers constantly rushing through their an ever-rotating series of heads in the pursuit of volume and money.
Nevertheless, there are still a few barbers out there who are throwbacks to the good old days, and Sherwood’s Gary Mason is one of them. Occupying a building that’s small and unassuming on the outside but offers a friendly hangout vibe on the inside, Mason has been a trusted haircutter and confidant of countless customers throughout his 37 years in business.
Now 63, Mason plans to keep cutting until he’s 75, attaining a full 50 years in the Gary Mason Barber Shop. It’s been a long and steady career for a guy who didn’t know what he wanted to do after high school in the 1970s.
“I got out of high school, graduated, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” recalled Mason. “I went to get my hair cut, and saw the barber standing around in air conditioning just talking to people as they came in, and having a pretty nice car outside. It seemed like a pretty easy life and I thought ‘how bout this?’
“So I went to barber school. I started at the Other Center [former shopping center in North Little Rock}, right after it was built, and cut hair in Louisiana, Benton, different places. But I wanted to be in this shop, which started in 1959 and was only a block from where I grew up. I’d known it all my life.”
Mason has a mischievous smile behind his beard and a deep Arkansas twang, both of which combine to make him a memorable jokesmith and storyteller. He recalls growing up with a father who cracked jokes constantly, and notes that he picked up the art quickly, managing to make his classmates laugh heartily by first grade. His sense of humor saved him from childhood fights as he won over bullies, and remains the centerpiece of his business to this day.
“I don’t have a partner because if you’re one on one with a customer, you can talk about anything you want to and say anything you want to,” noted Mason. “If there’s too many people, you might want to watch what you say. That led me to develop a better relationship with my customers. You can just open up to me, and sometimes I open up to them. You can speak freely here.”
Besides his atmosphere and attitude, Mason’s haircut price is also a throwback– at just $12. He doesn’t do “weird, fancy styles” or straight razors, but his customers are a colorful bunch who have been coming to him for decades. In fact, one man has been coming since he was five, when Mason opened his doors, and is now 42.
“I’ve got this little one-man shop , so trying to get by on the money I make is the biggest challenge,” said Mason. “I never made a lot of money, but my wife has tolerated that. We’re not people who need a lot of stuff.
“The best part is the people I’ve met: doctors, lawyers, military and even people living on the streets. Everything you see, I’ve had ‘em. Everyone’s got a story and I hear them all. It’s like being a lawyer, doctor or a priest. People tell me their secrets, because what’s said in a barber shop doesn’t go any further. And you come see your barber way more than the doctors or dentists.”
Gary Mason Barber Shop is located at 9901 Hwy. 107 in Sherwood, Arkansas. Call (501) 835-5169.