Barber Shop Social Club

Americana, Odd Jobs, People, Traditions
on March 25, 2001

When 69-year-old “Pickle” Harvell goes to McCarter’s Barber Shop in Clover, S.C., (3,541) he knows he can get a haircut for five bucks. It’s been that way for nearly 40 years.

But Harvell is looking for more than a quick trim.

“If I don’t come, they talk about me,” says Harvell, who visits the barber shop twice a week to catch up on the local news. “I have to come and defend myself.”

Although the sign outside reads barber shop, much more than haircuts beckon customers inside. Sure, it’s got ambiance, with the three barber chairs that have sat in the shop since 1934, longer than barbers Andy and Duke McCarter have been alive. And although the old thrashing wheel—suspended from the tin ceiling and doubling as a coat rack—is a good conversation piece, it doesn’t necessarily draw customers inside. Neither do the mounted deer heads on the wall, nor a stuffed fox that’s gazed at customers for 50 years.

If you want to know the appeal of McCarter’s Barber Shop, just ask Wayne Polk.

“They don’t charge for the haircuts,” says Polk, who has gotten spruced up at McCarter’s for nine years. “They charge for the conversation.”

This is where men gather each week to discuss local news, enjoy camaraderie, and basically shoot the breeze.

You might say the McCarter brothers are deeply rooted in hair cutting. Andy and Duke’s grandfather, Ervin McCarter, cut hair, and their father, Finley McCarter, a farmer, got plenty of practice by cutting the hair of his 12 children.

“Our daddy was a farmer, and we had mules we used to trim up, so we figured we could cut hair and get paid for it,” Duke deadpans.

Andy, 65, began cutting hair at the shop in 1961, and Duke, 63, picked up the scissors a year later. Joe Lee, another McCarter brother, has his own shop catering to women nearby. Along with their bargain haircuts, Andy and Duke McCarter serve up sizable helpings of good-natured ribbing and one-liners.

“We used to fix women’s hair, but I made them look so good I had to ask them for a date,” Duke says.

Some of Andy and Duke’s customers, like Timothy McAlister, 25, have gotten haircuts at McCarter’s Barber Shop all their lives. And somewhere along the way, McAlister has picked up on their quick-witted style.

“I used to cut hair, too,” says McAlister, who gets his hair trimmed every two weeks. “On an old collie dog!”

On a recent January day, five or six men wait for their turn in the barber’s chair, relaxing in vinyl chairs around a coffee table stacked with copies of Field and Stream. Talk ranges from high heating bills and the weather to hunting.

During a lull in the conversation, the electric razor gently hums as the scissors close with a whispering snip. In between customers, Duke takes a private moment to eat a lunch brought from home while the lyrics of the song Will the Circle Be Unbroken? thread through the air from an old radio.

Steven Williams, who lives in the neighboring community of York, only a year ago discovered what the brothers had to offer.

“When I found out they had $5 haircuts, I started coming in,” says Williams, whose father, Joe, told him about McCarter’s Barber Shop. “I used to pay $8 for a haircut.”

And for some customers, the barber shop is almost like a second home. Harvell, who goes by the nickname “Pickle,” because “nobody in the world would know my real name,” spent 10 years cutting hair with Andy and Duke before taking another job in 1976 after men’s hairstyles got longer.

“I was the only outcast,” says Harvell. “I wasn’t a brother.”

“Pickle wanted to be a McCarter, but we wouldn’t let him change his name,” quips Andy as he guides a razor over Wayne Polk’s scalp.

“Andy, was Santa Claus good to you this year?” Polk asks.

“No, he forgot about me,” Andy says in mock disbelief. “I hung my stocking up and the health department came and made me take it down!”

And so it goes.