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Red Price retires clippers after 51 years

Red Price and customer George Hall at Crystal Barbershop on Seventh Avenue. Red Price and customer George Hall at Crystal Barbershop on Seventh Avenue.

Few people who have gone to work every day for five decades walk out the door with as many good memories as Red Price.

“I’ve been here 51 years and I’ve enjoyed every minute,” said Price, who on Saturday will close and lock the door of his Crystal Barber Shop for the last time. “I’ve had a lot of good customers.”
Price has lots of stories and lots of memories. He knows the history of Seventh Avenue because he has watched the sometimes troubled retail strip outside his window since cars had fins and men wore flat tops. But the reason Price had such a loyal customer base and the reason he enjoyed his job can be summed up in his own words. “I like people,” he says.
He’s glad to go back to the very beginning when someone asks him about the shop's earliest days before he was born.
Charlie Lowrance and Jim Pace started the shop in August 1922 in what was then a new building in the 300 block of East Seventh Avenue. The rich and colorful stories of the shop's first 40 years survive through Price. Then as now, a barbershop was a place not only for a haircut but also a place to hear the talk of the town. Lowrance and Pace told Price about it.
“When the train came in, if they weren’t busy, they’d go meet the train — especially if it was from Charleston,” he said. “Nobody had a radio back then, this was in the ‘20s. He said if somebody got off that train from Charleston, they had the news coming off the boat from England and Europe. So they had the world news. It might be six months old but it’s still news.
“He said if he could talk one man into comin’ up here to get a haircut off of that train the place filled up (with local men). They wanted to hear the news.”
The boarding houses that lined Seventh Avenue sent bellhops to the meet train. They’d offer to carry a passenger’s luggage if he or she would check into their boarding house. “It was $6 a week,” Price said.
Most of the old boarding houses and hotels have burned down or been bulldozed. Price recalled the big fire that destroyed the Caldwell Inn in September 2009. He stepped out of his shop and peered down the alley at the fire, where he could see the occupants jumping to safety from the upper floors. “They didn’t have fire escapes,” he said.
Someone mentions an old hotel that’s still standing — the Cedars — and of course Price has a story about that, too.
His mother-in-law as a girl would accompany her parents on a route that sold eggs and chickens to the kitchen at the Cedars.
“If she could catch a rabbit, they’d give her a quarter for it,” he said. “She’d have to dress it and leave one foot on. I reckon people would try to skin a cat to sell it for a rabbit so you had to leave one foot on it so they’d know it was a rabbit.”

Grew up in mill village

Born on April 12, 1940, to Lucille and Grady Price, Donald Price grew up in the old Balfour mill village. Both his parents worked at the mill.
“It was a good job for a lot of people that didn’t have much education,” he said. “It gave a lot of people a job.”

An uncle named him Red, and all his friends and family called him that. He liked the name so well that he decided in the fifth grade to drop Donald for good. When the teacher called roll and got to Donald Price, he fell silent. He'd only answer to Red. "If you put down 'Donald,' I guarantee nobody will know who you're talking about," he said to a reporter.
Red's family stayed in the mill village until he was in the eighth grade, when his parents bought a house off Howard Gap Road. He graduated from Edneyville High School in 1959.
“I got my hair cut here,” he said when a visitor asked how he got started cutting hair. “I was working at Cranston Printworks. I was making a dollar and a nickel an hour. They were gettin’ a dollar and a quarter for a haircut and I thought, ‘I ought to be doing that.’ I had just got drafted in the Army and as soon as I got out of the Army (in 1964) I went down and applied for barber school and got in.”
Over the years, he has adjusted the shop’s hours to meet the schedule of his customers.
“They were coming off third shift,” he said. “They got off of work at 7 and they could be here by 7:30. They said, ‘I don’t want to go home and go to bed and have to get up to get a haircut.’ So I said, ‘I’ll open at 7:30.’ On Saturday I worked 13 hours, from 7 to 8.”
Haircuts were simple when he started. Sixty percent of the men who came in wanted a flat top, and Price was good at flat tops. Business stayed steady even when long hair came along. College boys who had been away at school came in at fall break, Christmas and spring break. Price grew his own hair down below his ears even though he didn’t like the style. “You had to,” he said. “The kids wouldn’t go to a barber that had short hair. They was afraid you was going to cut their hair like yours was.”
Asked about his legs, knees and back holding up to 170,000 hours on his feet, Price said he’s had almost no physical problems.
“When I was in school playing sports and I ran all the time and I guess my legs is strong from that,” he said. “If I ever have any trouble it’s right between my shoulder blades.” It feels like a hot poker. Even then, if he takes a break to talk from one end of the shop to the other the pain usually goes away.

Tried to sell the shop

One reason Price has kept the shop open 10 years longer than he and Joan originally decided is that he wanted someone to take it over. He was thinking about his customers.
“I wanted to keep it open, and I couldn’t find anybody to keep it open,” he said. “I’ve been trying to sell it for five years — trying to get somebody to help me and get used to my customers. I never could get anybody to work. I feel like if there’s a good barber around, he’s got a job. If he’s huntin’ a job — the ones I’ve had — hadn’t been much good. … So I just decided it’s time to quit.”
He’ll cut his last head of hair on Friday afternoon, probably around 5 o’clock. His daughters, Melissa and Daphne, have arranged a retirement party from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday.
Come Monday morning, he figures he’ll be lying in bed, waiting for the 6 o’clock alarm like always.
“Most of the time I’m laying there waiting for the clock to go off,” he said. “I’m so used to coming out here it’ll be hard to change.”
But if he is retired from cutting hair, he won’t be idle.
Since 1981, he’s grown apples in his own 10-acre orchard in his front yard.
“I knew two things about apples — some was red and some was yellow, and that’s all I knew,” he said He added Mountain Fresh Orchards, an apple stand and bakery that sells fresh apples, fried apple pies, whole apple pies, apple dumplings, cider donuts and other baked goods plus jellies, cider, produce, hoop cheese and other products.
“When I started I had nobody to teach me,” he said. “The guy that got me started in that orchard died about five years later. So I’ve had to learn on the Internet or just by asking my customers. If I had a question or had any problems I’d just ask them. They know what to do. It’s been in their family for three or four generations. They’ve probably forgotten more than I know about growing apples.”
He figures he’ll try some leisure activity, too, though he’s out of practice.
“I’ll just catch an old catfish or bream. I hadn’t really been fishing in 40 years,” he said with a laugh. “I’ll have to learn how to fish.”