Alan Harris: Clipping customers for 50 years
News Report Staff
When Alan Harris was a young boy, he always went to the same barber shop.
Little did he know then just how many trips he would ultimately make to that shop at 127 E. Jefferson St. in Effingham.
In fact, those trips haven’t stopped.
On July 31, Alan will celebrate 50 years as a barber. And the past 47 of those have been right there in that small shop in the heart of downtown Effingham.
“This is the same shop I got my hair cut as a kid. Floyd Butler was the barber during my teen years,” Alan remembered. “I never dreamed in a million years that I’d be a barber in this same shop.”
Alan Harris has been a fixture in the Effingham community for 69 years. He was born and raised here and graduated from St. Anthony High School in 1967.
When you’re around him, it seems like he knows everybody. He rarely “meets a stranger” and is easy to talk to. He can tell stories and joke around with the best of them, but he’s also a “straight shooter,” never hesitating to “tell it like it is.”
He’s an outdoorsman through and through. There are few things he would rather do than hunt, fish or play golf.
But he also played softball and was the lead singer and rhythm guitar player for local bands through the years.
In addition, he served on the Effingham City Council for 16 years, working with three mayors – Bob Utz, John Lange and Merv Gillenwater.
He’s also a family man. He and his wife, Sharon, will celebrate their 49th anniversary in September. They have three children – Michael, Cory and Shannon — seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
But most people know Alan as their local barber and expect sheers, a comb and easy conversation with each visit.
Following high school graduation, he attended Central Illinois Barber College in Decatur. After he passed his state board exams, he served his two-year apprenticeship with Bob Smith, who had a shop in the old Midstate Shopping Plaza in Effingham.
After those two years, Alan passed the state board exams again – this time earning his journeyman’s license.
In July 1970, Alan found out Floyd Butler’s barber shop was for sale and seized the opportunity.
“I don’t remember for sure, but I probably found out from my dad,” Alan recalled, followed by just one of several stories he told during the interview.
“My dad wanted me to cut his hair, but insisted on paying me for it. I refused to take his money,” Alan said. “He said he wasn’t going to have his hair cut for free. Since I wouldn’t take his money, he went back and had Floyd cut his hair. I imagine that’s how I found out his shop was for sale.”
Alan knew there was a risk, “but I decided to buy it and try it on my own.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
During his half a century in business, Alan has seen many changes. When he started, there were 13 barbers in Effingham. Today, there are four. In the early years, it was illegal for female cosmetologists to cut men’s hair.
That all changed in the mid-1970s.
“When ladies started cutting men’s hair, some of my business walked right out the door,” Alan noted. “Business just started trickling away.”
That was also when long hair started becoming popular and many of the guys wanted only a trim, not a full haircut.
“Before that, many of the guys used hair oil and didn’t shampoo as often of most today,” Alan said. “That was much more challenging to cut. Then the long-haired hippies came along. They were proud of their hair and kept it much cleaner.
“I’ve seen several styles come and go,” Alan added. “It used to be crew cuts and flat tops. Then the hair got longer, then shorter and now they’re starting to wear it a little longer again.”
But the equipment hasn’t changed.
“A comb is still a comb,” Alan quickly responded. “The quality of sheers has improved, though. I remember when they cost $14.95. Today, they cost between $100 and $115.”
Harris Barber Shop also has a hair vacuum and a latherizer – common equipment found in a barber shop for many, many years. And we can’t forget the iconic barber pole outside the front door.
In 1967, a haircut cost $1.50 during the week and $1.75 on Friday and Saturday. Today, it’s $13 – and that includes shaving the back of the neck. Alan has never offered face shaving.
Alan admits he’s got a “great gig.”
“I get to cut my friends’ hair and they pay me for it,” he said. “How cool is that?”
And the stories are endless. He recalled one man having a heart attack in his shop and also talked about his 40th birthday when Rev. Lawrence Beebe, former Sheriff Art Kinkelaar, former Chief of Police Arlin Arnold, Frank Kabbes and Bob Anderson brought in a birthday cake.
“They walked in carrying this cake and sang Happy Birthday to me,” Alan said. “Then they cut the cake and gave everybody in the shop a piece except me. And when they were finished, they threw their plates and forks on the floor and walked out. My friends. And they were all customers of mine.”
Alan said he’s actually trying to put a book together and tell some of the “goofy things that have happened here.”
You can’t help but like Alan. He’s an advocate for the great outdoors and the community of Effingham. Whether it’s helping youth learn to hunt or fish, driving city projects like the Rainey Street Overpass or Outer Belt West or spending time with his family, he’s a man that has made a difference in many lives.
Now, he’s looking to slow down. He works three days a week – 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. He and Sharon spend time with their kids and grandkids as often as possible. In fact, following this interview, Alan was headed to the golf course with a grandson.
And he says “hello” to virtually every person he sees.
“I guess I’ve just lived around here long enough,” Alan said. “This has been my hometown for 69 years and I’ve cut hair here for 50 years. Plus, with the church, the bands, golf and the city council, I’ve gotten to know a lot of people.
“Some of the guys that come in today, I’ve been cutting their hair for 50 years,” he added. “Yes, they’re customers. But they’ve also become good friends. Others are gone now and I miss them a lot.”
As long as his health holds up, Alan plans to work “for some time yet. It’s the best part-time job in the world. I can set my own hours and come and go as I please.”
What is Alan’s secret to success?
“You just do the best job you can for the people that come in,” he admitted. “And I’m sure a little ‘BS’ didn’t hurt a bit.”
He credits his father for that.
“He was always teasing somebody or giving them a hard time,” Alan recalled. “I’m sure that’s where I got it from because I’m the same way. And I’m pretty proud of that.
“I was going to name my shop Al’s Clip Joint, but out of respect for my father, I named it Harris Barber Shop,” Alan added. “Hopefully, I’m a reflection of my parents (Charlie and Gert). They’re great people.”
Alan says barbers are like dinosaurs.
“We’re disappearing,” he said. “But there’s a trade here for somebody. You’re never going to get rich, but you can make a nice living.
“I paid for my business and my home and I sent my kids to college. What more can you ask for? I’m very satisfied with my career.”