Bright marks 50 years of barbering

Published 12:21 am Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Harold Bright, owner of Harold’s Barber Shop in Chocowinity, cuts the hair of longtime customer Ronnie Lewis. Bright has been in the barbering profession for more than half a century. (WDN Photo/Kevin Scott Cutler)

CHOCOWINITY — If all the hair Chocowinity barber Harold Bright has cut was laid end to end, it might reach to the moon and back.

Bright has been a barber for more than 50 years, most of them at his own shop in his hometown. A 1957 graduate of Chocowinity High School, he studied at the now-defunct Durham Institute of Barbering before landing his first barbering job in Morehead City. But he yearned to return home, and after nearly three years in Morehead City, he opened his shop in Chocowinity.

Dates, hard to remember for many people, roll easily off Bright’s tongue. The grand opening of his shop was held July 17, 1961, across the street from his present location near the intersection of U.S. Highway 17 and N.C. Highway 33. He’s relocated twice since opening that first shop, and he’s been in his current location since May 2005.

Bright is a man of habit. He rises at 4 a.m. each day and arrives at his shop by 5 a.m. to tidy up and prepare for the day’s customers. He “officially” opens at 6 a.m., but more often than not fellow early risers are seated comfortably in the barber chair before then. He’s open as late as 4:30 p.m.

“The early bird gets the worm,” Bright said with a laugh.

He’s fond of catchy phrases. Another favorite is, “We need your head in our business.”

Bright is a master of multitasking, too. Deftly powdering the neck of longtime customer Ronnie Lewis, who has been a patron for 24 years, Bright speaks on a variety of subjects, ranging from politics to his beloved wife of 52 years, Carolyn, who was his high-school sweetheart.

Talk turns to the recent passing of a customer, which leads Bright to reminisce of others who have gone on to meet their Maker. Several of them, before their deaths, extracted Bright’s promise to give them one last haircut for the funereal viewing. The mood turns somber until Lewis, stirring in the barber chair, remarks with a grimace, “Let me get up out of here!”

That lightens the mood, and Bright entertains a shop full of waiting clients with stories of his barbering exploits.

“I’m a left-handed barber, so I have to buy special scissors,” he remarks. “They’re $125 a pair now, and they used to be $10.”

Many Chocowinity men received their first haircut as youngsters in Bright’s shop, including Lewis’ 16-year-old son, Landon. In fact, Bright is proud of the fact that he counts among his clients several generations in some families. Following a tradition he started decades ago, Bright presents each young boy a certificate marking his first haircut; that certificate is prized by the youngsters’ parents, but the boys themselves always seem to favor the lollipops he bestows after each successful haircut. And, yes, those haircuts don’t always go well. Bright confided he’s been bitten on occasion by unhappy lads unwilling to part with their locks, but a television tuned to cartoons usually soothes the crying little fellows.

Bright’s shop is full of memorabilia that captures the attention of his older clientele. For instance, there’s a vintage photography of Chocowinity’s Radio View Grill, circa late 1950s. There are a few NASCAR souvenirs, a 1984 North Carolina Highway Patrol clock and a collection of autographed photos, keepsakes from his visits to the local Tar Heel Variety Theater. Among his favorites are Roy Clark, T.G. Sheppard, Chubby Checker and Billy “Crash” Craddock. Bright and his wife regularly attend gospel and traditional country music concerts at the theater, and they are members of Union Chapel Free Will Baptist Church. Between church, the theater and work, Bright manages to keep himself busy.

Only once was he away from the shop for an extended period of time. Normally, he’s open five days a week, but in 2002 he underwent a hip replacement, and the surgeon ordered him to stay off his feet for eight weeks. Bright admitted he cut that time short.

“My first day back after reopening, I cut 41 heads of hair on the Saturday before Easter,” he said with a laugh.

Bright said his current customers range in age from toddlers to a gentleman in his 90s. But there have been lulls in the barbering business.

“Beauty shops have hurt barbering, but it’s starting to come back,” he said.

And the barber, who started out with flat-top haircuts as a specialty, vividly recalls the days when most young men wanted to emulate the look of the Beatles.

“I managed to hang on through the hippie, long-hair style,” he said. “But it was tough.”

Harold’s Barber Shop is open Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. He can be reached at 252-946-4479.