WILMORE, KENTUCKY (WDKY-TV)– Clay’s Barber Shop is a fixture on Wilmore’s Main Street, as famliar as the trains that stop what little traffic rolls by at noon.
Generations of families have hopped up in Clay Tankersley’s chair to go from shaggy to sleek.
“I had planned on working as long as I possibly could, but that nine weeks I was shut down, got me to thinking about my wife and different things,” he said. “And it’s time.”
Tankersley said his wife’s health is failing and he wants to be home more to help around the house. He may go fishing some, but he has no big plans for retirement.
Tankersley got his barber’s license just five months after graduating from high school in 1956 and went to work at a friend’s shop when he was just 18 years old. It’s the same shop that closed this week.
When he started, a boy’s haircut cost 75 cents, a man’s cost one dollar. Now, he gets $12 for a haircut. He’s always tried to keep his prices low because he knows the students that come in from Asbury University and Asbury Seminary don’t have much money. He could’ve gone to work in Lexington shops but that never appealed to him.
“Money’s not everything,” he said. “Being satisfied in you mind means a lot to me. I love Wilmore.”
He said haircuts these days are similar to the ones he gave when he first started. The trend has gone back to shorter cuts for men. But in the 1960s when The Beatles were popular, he said he almost went broke.
“Everybody wanted to keep their hair longer,” he said. “I thought I might have to go into another line of work.”
He said he’s never cut a woman’s hair, not even his wife’s. But he did travel to as many as eleven nursing homes at one time, giving haircuts to the men there. He hopes to resume going to some of them again, as soon as the COVID-19 crisis is over.
His shop resembled a museum, with vintage equipment, a penny gumball machine, and walls lined with signed University of Kentucky basketballs, photos and awards he’s collected over the decades.
A lot of people came into the shop in the final week, hoping to get one more haircut from their favorite barber. He got emotional several times as he thought about turning the “CLOSED” sign on the front door for good.
“I’m soft-hearted,” he said. “It’s going to be tough. I’m going to miss my people.”