By Carolyn Myers
When Jo Moore came to Ashdown in 1973, there was a ready market for her skills; the last two barbershops downtown had plans to consolidate into one, which would be in the newly planned “Southtown” shopping center, a mall, farther out of town on Hwy. 71 South. (The “mall” idea that was so popular at that time worked well for large cities but helped kill off downtown areas in many smaller cities and towns by draining business away from the heart of the towns.)
When Eddy Ayers, half of the Walker and Ayers Barbershop on Front Street (now Constitution Avenue) left to find better wages at the paper mill, Burl Walker made the decision to move to a new shop and partnership with Oliver Snow, whenever the proposed shop became a reality. That would leave no shop in Ashdown’s downtown area. Jo Moore would soon fill that vacancy.
Jo came to Ashdown because her husband worked in power line construction and he would be working in this area. Jo was glad to come back to Arkansas from Dallas because she would be closer to her parents who lived in the Nashville area. She had been making good money working in a barber shop in Dallas where she had graduated barber school. She would have to start all over again trying to build a business, if she could find a job here. Jo had worked in Texarkana, Texas, for a couple years until she could get her Arkansas barber license and had driven back and forth to Texarkana but hated crossing the old Red River Bridge at Index. She was determined to get work in Ashdown.
Jo had met Mr. Elmer Eddy, a barber in Ashdown, through her Dallas employer who had also been her instructor in barber school and who owned the shop where she worked. Mr. Eddy told her if she ever needed a job, come to Ashdown and he would make sure she got one. However, when she began looking for work and asked about Mr. Eddy, she learned that he had died suddenly while working in his shop. Not long at a loss for what to do, Jo went to see Burl Walker to ask about a job because she had heard he might need a barber in his shop.
She said, “I went in and Burl was cutting J.C. Calloway’s hair. So I asked if he needed another barber. He had a funny look on his face and he said, “Jo, this is my last day in this shop, I’m closing it; I’m going to Southtown. J.C. Calloway said, ‘Open this shop back up! We don’t want everything to go to Southtown! I’ll stay with you and I’ll see that you get a good business.’ Well, I didn’t know what to say because there Burl was, cutting J.C.’s hair and I didn’t think it was right to talk in front of Burl. I stayed a few minutes and went on my way.”
But she thought about the proposition. She went to Southtown to talk to Oliver Snow about a job there but the barbershop was still under construction; the concrete had not even been poured. It was raining a lot and the weather was bad for building projects.
“I wanted to go to work pretty quick; I didn’t want to wait three months for the shop to be finished,” Jo said. “So I went and talked to Ruby Lowery who owned the building where Burl was working. I rented that building for $50 a month and thought that was pretty cheap rent. That was in 1973. Before I could open, I had to buy all new equipment because Burl had to take all his with him. I reasoned that I would have customers because folks would come looking for Burl. Some would stay and let me cut their hair and some wouldn’t but I believed I could build a good business. JO’S MUG & BRUSH is what I named the barbershop. I didn’t want people to think it was a beauty shop. The minute I turned the barber pole on, people started coming in and I’ve had a good business ever since.”
Jo said that when she first talked to Ruby Lowery about renting the building, Lowery tried to get her to rent the building next door which went for a cheaper price. Jo told her, no, that she wanted to rent the barbershop because it had always been a barbershop and people would naturally come there for a haircut. They were used to it. So Jo paid Lowery rent for three months.
Jo went on, “About three years later when she came in to collect the rent, she looked at me and laughed. She said that when she rented the building to me, she thought that three months was about as long as I’d last. She said, “And now here I am collecting this rent for the third year!” When asked if there were any remarks about her being a woman barber, she replied, “I had one man who came in to get a haircut, but started to leave when he saw the barber was a woman. He said, ‘If I let you cut my hair, the guys out at the paper mill would laugh me out of town!’ I told him, ‘The ones I know out there would laugh at you if you wouldn’t let me cut your hair!’”
She continued, “When I went into the barber business, I realized I was in a man’s world and they really didn’t want me there. But I handled myself as a lady from the very beginning and I was treated that way. They all treated me nice and I had very few problems out of any of them.” Concerning shaving, Jo said, “I had always shaved quite a few until the aids epidemic spread and men were afraid to get a shave. I remember one regular customer, Forrest Hill, who came in pretty often to get a shave. And there had been lots of others.”
Remembering that time and giggling, Jo continued, “The last shave I gave to a customer was to the Methodist preacher, Bro. Scott Gallimore. I told him the old joke about the barber who, ready to commence shaving a customer, held the straight razor to the man’s throat and ‘Do you know the Lord?” I laughed,” she said, giggling, “and then he did.”
On a more serious note, she continued, “I really didn’t start out wanting to be a barber. My husband at that time went to barber school and became a barber and he wanted me to be one. I didn’t know anything about barbering. I was just an ol’ country girl from Nashville, Arkansas. But he went ahead and paid my tuition to the Dallas barber college and I wasn’t going to let it go to waste so I went to barber school. I told him, I might not ever work a day as a barber but I’m going to take the training.”
While in barber college she recognized that she really like cutting hair and had an aptitude for it. She soon got her license and started to work.
Jo kept the MUG & BRUSH in its location on the street corner until 1999, when Ed Russell, who owned the building at that time, sold it to be used as a beauty shop. Jo reluctantly moved down the street just across the alley to another building and opened her barbershop there. The move didn’t hurt her business and she worked at that location until 2007, when she retired.
After more than 40 years of cutting hair, her hands had become stiff and arthritic and that condition had begun to affect the quality of her work.
She explained, “My hands had started cramping real bad. I was cutting a man’s hair late in the evening and I had had a busy day. When they cramped like that, I would have to turn around and wash them in hot water before I could finish a head of hair. I had to stop three times in that haircut and I didn’t feel like I had done a good job. It didn’t look like what I wanted my haircuts to look like so I figured I’d better quit while I had a good reputation.”
Jo knew that a friend, Linda Carter, had wanted to come to Ashdown to work, so she called the woman and asked if Carter wanted the shop. Jo Moore, at almost 72 years of age, sold the shop to Carter in 2007.
“I still miss it terribly!” Jo said. “If my body would let me, I would open another shop tomorrow but at 83… well, I can’t even peel potatoes without my hands cramping. They hurt. I guess they’re just worn out. I loved my work. I’ve cut the hair of four generations of the same family, several families. The Mark Pounds family is one in particular. Mark’s daddy and granddaddy and now his son have come to me to get their hair cut and it was hard to walk off and leave those people. I’ve had fantastic customers and it’s been a good life. I couldn’t have asked for more.”