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    Sit in a barber chair; step back in time

    Friendly conversation and an old-fashioned feel help transform a barber shop into a gathering spot reminiscent of Cheers.

    By ANNE LINDBERG

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 12, 2001


    PINELLAS PARK -- A casual glimpse of the old-timey barber chairs and decor at Cuttin' Up Barber Shop might make you think you've stepped into the real-life equivalent of Floyd's barber shop from The Andy Griffith Show.

    But stick around a while, and you feel more as if you've dropped into the bar Cheers, where everybody knows your name.

    In one chair, an older man talks about his son's death.

    Shop owner George Collins sympathizes as he trims the man's hair: "When you hear something like that, it starts making you feel you aren't invincible."

    Another customer talks of Gasparilla.

    Minutes later, customer Nancy Chaney drops in to say a breezy hello and introduce her mother, Alice, to everyone. (Yes, this barber shop also does women's hair. But only services such as cuts and dye jobs. Nothing that requires time sitting around in hair curlers.)

    Customer Rick Sucre talks about why he followed Collins to Cuttin' Up when it opened Aug. 15.

    "Everybody knows everybody," Sucre said. "Plus, he gives a good haircut. Main thing, I wouldn't let anyone else cut it."

    Collins agreed that the friendliness is part of the reason for the shop's success.

    "A lot of these people, I know as much about their family as they do," Collins said.

    Collins does a lot to foster that clubby atmosphere.

    Just look at the decor.

    The four barber chairs in the front room all date from the era between 1915 and the mid 1920s. Antique shaving gear is strewn about, from shaving brushes to hand clippers. Even the straight razors the barbers use to get that close trim are reminiscent of the early days of barber shops.

    There's a Harley-Davidson motorcycle sitting in one corner. And for those who get restless waiting, there's a coffee bar, a putting green, a punching bag, some exercise equipment and, of course, televisions tuned to the big sporting event of the hour.

    There's even a waiting room for those who smoke and a haircutting station set up for people in wheelchairs. One barber also speaks Spanish.

    Collins, a 34-year-old native of upstate New York, moved to Florida in 1990. He moved to Pinellas Park about 4 1/2 years ago when he went to work for another barber shop in the city. Although he liked the job, he disagreed with the owner's decision to raise prices because it would alienate senior citizens who were on a fixed income.

    Fellow barber Jack Ferrera urged Collins to strike out on his own. When Collins did, Ferrera and four other barbers from the other shop came along.

    They brought more than their barbering talents. They worked in the Mariner Plaza shop at 8730 49th St. N until 2 or 3 a.m. for days, helping Collins paint the shop, build the cabinets, put in the sinks and lay the tile.

    And they're helping him build the business by providing an efficient, friendly atmosphere.

    "We're sociable to everybody," Ferrera said. "Everybody likes coming in."

    It's a good business, Collins said, even in this day of high-end salons and stylists.

    "Actually, barber shops are coming back . . . because of the (kids') short haircuts," he said. "I have customers coming in once a week to get their hair cut. . . . These haircuts need a lot of upkeep because they're so short."

    With that much upkeep, cost becomes a big factor.

    Haircuts are $7 for senior citizens, and $9 for everyone else. A wash, cut and blow-dry is $12.

    Although the cost is low, the haircuts can be labor-intensive.

    Consider the time and effort barber Jason Clark put into one fade, a haircut that starts extremely short at the bottom and gets longer on the top.

    The customer, who had almost a crew cut to start with, wanted it shorter, shorter, shorter on the bottom. Then Clark labored to make sure the almost non-existent sideburns were just right.

    Finally, Clark lathered the young man's hairline and used a straight razor to get the edges of the haircut just right.

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