By Maddi Williams
The Northport Gazette
NORTHPORT - The art of cutting and styling men’s hair is a trade Jimmy Crowe of Northport has taken seriously in Northport for 55 years and counting.
Crowe’s strong work ethic began from a young age near Guin, where he was raised and worked under his dad, Dave, and alongside some of his four siblings on the family farm. Once he was 11-years-old he began plowing the field with a mule and he was milking one of their two cows.
The barber-to-be was the youngest boy of eight siblings. His brothers and sisters include Harold David, Ruby Sue, and Carole. The following Crowe siblings are all deceased: Mary Lou, James DeWitte, Euel Dewight and Hayward Edsel.
Crowe said his father probably should not have continued to work as a farmer because of some kind of a heart condition, which ended up killing him when Crowe was 12.
“In 1952 they didn’t know anything about how to treat people with heart problems,” Crowe said.
Despite his father’s passing, the family continued to tend to the farm and would hire out to their neighbors and community members by picking cotton or corn. Not only did the land keep them close, but so did music.
Crowe and his sibling played in a musical group together called the Sugar Creek Bluegrass Band, where they performed Gospel classics, such as, “Gone Home” at different church venues. Since Crowe was 14, he’s been playing the mandolin, bass and electric guitar, which he said he learned from his brothers but also feels was a God-given gift.
(Brother Harold David Crowe still performs some in the area, Crowe noted.)
Crowe attended Marion County High School in Guin and later earned his General Education Diploma. He then moved to Tuscaloosa in 1958, where one of his brothers had relocated. He accepted a job as a warden at Bryce Hospital, where he worked directly with some of the patients. The position was not his dream job, but it paid the bills.
By 1960 he married his wife, the former Gertie Stowe, who he knew from his hometown of Guin.
“We would drive through Northport every time we went home and would say, ‘We like this place,’” said Crowe.
Eventually, the couple pursued their love for Northport and purchased a two bedroom and one bathroom home off of Highway-43. While he is not in the same home, he has remained a resident of Northport ever since 1961.
His barbering career began in 1963 when he went to work for Tom and Gerald’s Barber Shop, which was located near Kentuck Park in Northport.
“I was scared to death,” said Crowe. “I had no idea what I was doing.”
But it was not long before barbering came to him like music--naturally. After three months of working as a barber for Tom and Gerald’s Barber Shop, he was offered a position cutting men’s hair at the Economy Barber Shop on Main Avenue, where he was offered $75 a week.
“That was a gift I guess God gave me,” he said. “I never thought I’d want to be a barber, but that door opened and I took it.”
One day while working at that shop, his wife drove up to the storefront and motioned for him to come outside, but Crowe was stumped as to why she was at his workplace.
“In those days, it wasn’t common for women to be at a barber shop,” he said.
She then told him she needed to be rushed to the hospital because she was in labor with their first child, Lisa.
“I don’t know what happened with my client that was in his chair, but I was out of there,” he said.
Crowe worked at the Economy Barber Shop for about three months before he was offered another deal he felt he could not refuse, which included the chance to eventually own his own business. It was in 1963 that he was offered a barbering job at The McCrory Village Barber Shop, which was located at the current McCrory Village Shopping Center off of Highway 82 next to the Northport Civic Center. The opportunity was proposed to him like this: Once the shop owner retired, Crowe would own the business. Crowe accepted the deal, beginning his work as a general barber there in 1963 and owning it by 1966.
“I was only in my late 20s and I was a business owner,” he said. “I thought it was pretty good for a country boy.”
Crowe said The McCrory Village Barber Shop had an edge to other barber shops since they stayed open between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m., serving the working class that was not able to be there until after 5 p.m.
From there, Crowe established a separate barber shop called “The Male Room” on Lurleen Wallace Boulevard in Northport, which specialized in cutting long hair for men, since that was a trending style in the early 1970s.
Crowe owned and operated two shops at once, continuing with The Male Room until about 1984 when he said the long hair trend dwindled out.
The long-time barber said McCrory Village Center was bought by the City of Northport in the 1980s, which led him to move his shop to a spot off of Highway 82-W in 1984. Crowe changed the name of the business to The Village Hair Center, which still stands in the same location and is still owned by Crowe today.
Around 1986, Crowe began working at the Northport Barber Shop on Main Avenue, which he said is the oldest barber shop still standing and operating in the same location in the State of Alabama, and it is also the third-oldest in the country. Crowe said the shop has been around for 113 years and Crowe continues to work there every Wednesday.
“I’ve had clients with me since Day One, since the first day I went to work,” he said.
Crowe said he feels the key to being a good barber is listening to the customers and genuinely enjoying the work.
“You’ve got to love what you do; love the people and have patience,” Crowe said. “You got to figure out what they’re explaining to you. You don’t just go start cutting hair until you figure out what they want you to do,” he said.
Crowe noted this is essential because many men are particular about the way their hair looks. He said his favorite style to cut is a flattop, which is a type of short haircut where the hair on the top of the head usually stands upright and cut to form a flat-appearing deck.
“It is a precision haircut, and it’s going to show up bad if it’s not done just about perfect,” he said. “I like the challenge.”
Among the 55 years that Crowe has been cutting hair, he recalled a few peculiar experiences.
“I had this guy one time, he was always kidding me, he got in the chair and said, ‘I want you to make me pretty today,’ and I said, I get off at 5,’” Crowe told with a laugh.
Aside from funny comments, Crowe has noticed changes in the business. For starters, he said customers often wear their hair shorter now, but also are more particular with their hair and don’t like to wait. He remembers a time where walk-ins were the norm, but within the last 10 years, he said customers prefer appointments and punctuality.
“Everybody’s in a hurry today and that’s different than what it was in the 60s and 70s.”
Regardless of the changes, Crowe said he is thankful for all his loyal clients and employees.
“I just would like to thank my staff of barbers that have been working for me and have been so good for so many years,” he said. “The job they’ve done has helped me succeed as well as I have, a lot of it is due to the help I had.
Crowe has been married to Lanetta Morrow Crowe since 1960, and together they have two children, Lisa and Tim. Crowe currently works one day a week at the Northport Barber Shop, which he owns, and other days of the week he can be found helping his son flip houses.
“I’ve told my kids and grandkids, whatever profession you choose, don’t just be ordinary, strive to be the best,” he said. “And they’ve made me proud.”
See complete story in the Journal Record.