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City Barber Shop reopens in Marion with a new look
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City Barber Shop reopens in Marion with a new look

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City Barber Shop is open again with a new look that is sharp as a razor. But the path toward this new look was by no means quick and easy.

Located at 41 South Main St., City Barber Shop is a true landmark in Marion. Owner Chris Harris said his shop is the oldest one in North Carolina that has operated continuously at the same location. A barber shop has operated in that building since 1899, he added.

That would also probably make it the oldest business still operating in downtown Marion.

For more than 50 years, Chris’ father Tom Harris worked as a barber, like his father and Chris’ grandfather Jack before him. In 1964, Tom Harris joined his dad at City Barber Shop and eventually came to own and operate what has become a downtown Marion landmark. And in turn, Chris Harris worked alongside his father Tom for more than 14 years.

Located right beside the McDowell County Courthouse in the heart of the downtown, City Barber has been for decades a favorite place to not only get a haircut but for friends to meet friends. The single-story building covers 900 square feet.

In the past few years, Chris Harris has talked about upgrading the look on his shop, both inside and out. With help from a façade grant through the Marion Business Association, he was able to get a new double-pane window installed along with new paint and a refurbished sign on the front.

He started setting his sights on changing the look of the interior.

But then the COVID-19 pandemic happened. In mid-March, Gov. Roy Cooper announced numerous establishments in North Carolina would have to close their doors to slow down the spread of the coronavirus. The list included barbershops and hair salons.

Chris Harris and his fellow barbers James “Buck” Carver and Michael Harris worked hard to deal with all the many customers coming in for a haircut before the shutdown took effect. They refrained from doing beard or moustache trims to avoid being around people’s faces.

“It’s going to hurt us. There is no help for the self-employed,” said barber Michael Harris to The McDowell News at the time.

Furthermore, Chris Harris said in March he was informed by the governor’s office they could not cut hair for clients at home. Only immediate family could get a haircut from a barber at home, he added.

So the three barbers spent two months at home as they waited out Phase One. When the governor announced Phase Two, they learned they could start cutting hair again at the barber shop.

But if the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t enough, the business was hit with another blow. The Friday before Phase Two started, City Barber Shop was flooded with 2 inches of water due to a leaking roof.

“We couldn’t open up,” said Chris Harris. “The floors were all buckled up. There were leaks in the ceiling,”

And to make matters worse, the shop’s insurance wouldn’t cover the cost of repairs because it was due to a faulty roof and not storm damage.

“I had to get a COVID relief loan before the work could be done,” said Chris Harris.

He added it took about a week to get the loan and and three weeks to get the work done.

During those three weeks, the barber shop got new floors and walls. All of the cabinets were completely sanded. The interior is brighter because of the new lights and the light gray paint on the walls. New barber chairs have been ordered.

The end result is a new look for a Marion mainstay. Chris Harris calls it “a new spin on old times.”

“There’s nothing in this room that’s not been changed,” he added.

On Thursday, July 9, City Barber Shop finally reopened its doors for customers. The barbers there said it felt really good to reopen after all that.

The only downside is City Barber Shop remained closed for repairs even after Phase Two started. That meant the business lost a lot of customers who were seeking to get their hair trimmed again once Phase One was over.

But today, the newly renovated City Barber Shop is back in business and the three barbers there are busier than ever. They are also enforcing the wearing of masks inside the building. Face masks will be mandatory at all times inside the building during the COVID-19 pandemic. The barbers clean off the chairs after each haircut is done.

“It’s as clean as a hospital,” said Chris Harris. “We are enforcing the masks. We have a mask if they don’t have one.”

He added he’s lost several customers who don’t agree with wearing face masks.

There is also a limit on the number of people who can be inside. The shop can have four people waiting inside if all three barbers are busy. That makes for a total of 10. The shop only has four spaces available for waiting and those spaces are marked.

There is a signup sheet for customers who are not able to wait inside. They will be informed when they can come in.

With a new look and a new start, City Barber Shop is serious about keeping their customers and themselves safe during the pandemic.

“It ought to make people feel as safe as possible,” said Chris Harris.

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