DAYTONA BEACH — On a thoroughfare that isn’t known for its abundance of full-time businesses, the Main Street Barber Shop has been a permanent fixture of commerce for 70 years
"We might be the longest-standing open business on the street," said owner Ken Peters, who took over operation of the shop as a co-owner in 1997. "It opened in 1949, so that’s a long stretch."
In June, Peters will move the shop to a new, bigger location two blocks west in a former laundromat, a 741-square foot building.
"My landlord is lowering the rent and it will be double the square footage," said Peters, 62, fence-post lean clad in blue jeans and one of the shop's commemorative Bike Week T-shirts, sporting an overgrown, walrus-style mustache and, often, a black cowboy hat.
"They are working on it now," Peters said of the site's renovation. Peters expects the new shop to open by mid-June, he said.
And, indeed, the barbershop can confidently claim the honor of being Main Street’s oldest business, at least according to Shawn Humphreys, master jeweler at family-owned Humphreys & Son jewelry shop, open on Main Street since 1954. Humphreys recalls receiving his first haircut at the barbershop, which has been in its current location since 1979 after stints under previous owners in several other spots along Main Street.
When Ray Branton, who co-owned the shop with Peters, died in 2015, the surviving partner bought out Branton's share to become sole owner.
'It's the atmosphere'
Humphreys isn't the only notable area resident to take a seat in one of the shop’s three barber chairs. Brown & Brown chairman and philanthropist J. Hyatt Brown, now a force behind major new development that is expected to revitalize Beach Street, is a customer, as well as other area leaders including Jim Cameron, a senior vice president of the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce.
"I’ve been going there for 20 years, I think," Cameron said. "It’s very old-school, and that’s one of the things I like about it. You see some of the same people that are on the same schedule when it comes to getting haircuts."
Over the years, Cameron’s connection with the barber has grown beyond scissors and clippers. Peters sang at the wedding of Cameron and his wife, Rita, 17 years ago.
"Ken gives a good haircut, but Ken also is a good friend," Cameron said.
It turns out that many of the shop’s regulars feel the same way.
On a recent weekday morning, there was a steady stream of customers, willing to patiently wait for services that range from an $8 beard trim to a $20 razor shave. A clipper cut is $14, or a buck more for longer hair or a flat-top.
Most were greeted by name by Peters or barber Michael Napier, a second cutter hired a little over two years ago to help keep up with demand.
By the window, Peters runs a mechanical massage machine on the shoulders of customer Jim Weaver, 66, who rides his Harley-Davidson in from Deltona.
"It’s the atmosphere," Weaver said. "It’s been here a long time. You really get the pulse of the city. The people who come in here know what’s going on.
"I’m loyal to certain things," said Weaver, who started visiting the shop in the 1990s, a few years after Peters arrived. "Grocery stores, barbershops. If I like something, I keep coming."
Capping off a haircut with a massage is an old-school notion that Peters will take with him to the new location, where he plans to add an additional fourth chair in anticipation of more business.
Plans for the new shop call for an eye-catching mural of scissors and clippers along the building’s outside wall. Inside, new features will include a vacuum system for removing stray hairs from a customer’s neck and another for clearing hair from the floor.
That’s not what the barber is most excited about.
"The reason I want to make the move is the six parking places for the barbershop," said Peters, who thinks a lack of parking for Main Street businesses is a main reason that the street has languished.
"There’s not nearly enough parking," he said. "What person in their right mind would open a store, a gift shop, a bistro or whatever and there’s no place for their customers to park?"
Peters is encouraged by the addition of new full-time Main Street businesses such as the recently opened Pallet Pub and Carol’s Cat House, the latter a feline-themed gift shop. Rents have declined as demand from itinerant Bike Week vendors has faded, Peters said, opening the door for more locally owned businesses.
"We’ve got these new stores going up," he said. "The decline of Bike Week will be the resurgence of Main Street. We’ll start looking like downtown DeLand or St. George Street in St. Augustine. I’m not anti-Bike Week. I’m a realist and I see what’s happening."
Bike Week and Biketoberfest still mean plenty of business and exposure for the shop, he said.
During those special events, regulars make way for a procession of leather-clad tourists, who have made a stop at the shop a Main Street tradition. To document it, many bikers leave with a commemorative T-shirt, a souvenir that has spread the shop’s name far beyond the beachside.
"My little barbershop went worldwide," Peters said. "Who would’ve thunk it?"
It’s not an exaggeration. A wall in the narrow shop is lined with photos of customers wearing their T-shirts all over the globe: There’s one in front of the Parthenon and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, as well as other spots in Portugal, Australia, Poland and London, to name a few more.
Napier, Peters’ hair-cutting colleague, moved to Daytona Beach from West Virginia, where he had been cutting hair for six years. He considers the Main Street shop to be special.
"This is the best place I’ve ever worked," said Napier, 32, whose duties also include maintaining the shop's website and social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. "It’s a small-town, hometown barbershop. It’s just got that feel. You won’t find another barbershop like this. There’s 70 years of tradition running through those walls."
In June, Peters hopes to take that history two blocks west to the shop’s new home.
"I have a feeling it will be getting busier," he said.
Who would've thunk it?