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Rock Hill barber celebrates 50 years of clipping and snipping

The door creaks open, it is not long after 7:10 a.m. because the place doesn't open until 7:10. The sound of a train whistles behind the tiny brick building not 30 feet away. Cars rush by in front not 20 feet from the door on Rock Hill's East White Street. In walks a guy with gray hair needing a trim.

He's fourth in line already.

An old radio is tuned to Classic Oldies, WRBK out of Richburg, nothing but Motown and staples from the 1950s through the 1970s. The dial is tuned so that station, never changes, and never will.

"I only listen to what I understand, and I understand songs from when I was young," says the guy standing in front of the mirror, holding a comb.

A trickle of "Get Ready" by the Temptations fills the air. 1966. The radio sits on a ledge that has lotions and sanitizers and clippers and cutters and razors, and yes, that cylindrical glass bottle labeled, "Barbicide" with the combs in the green liquid that officially means "barber."

"Hello there," says the slender guy in the one-room business. Not tall or big is this guy, just friendly. He stands in a brick building no bigger than a living room, that always was, and always will be, Bill's Barber Shop.

Bill is the man at the mirror. Bill Parker. No introductions, ever.

"Mornin' Bill," comes the chorus from everybody who walks in. That is it and that is enough.

The plastic Pepsi wall clock has hands. Real hands that tell minutes and hours. The drink machine, empty now because people make too much of a mess, is the old style that held only 6-ounce bottles of Coca Cola that cost a quarter. The battered telephone is one of those wall jobs that replaced the rotary dial phone around 1977.

The diploma on the wall says, "Capitol Barber College" and is dated August 1, 1961.

There is no introduction - for this customer or any customer. A trio is already in the waiting seats of vinyl. There is another guy in the leather barbering chair that surely looks like a throne.

Everybody knows everybody else, by name or face, or both. The customers have known Bill Parker who owns and runs this shop for any part of 50 years, and have come in once a month, or twice a month, maybe four times a month for the truly natty, for a haircut.

Not a style. Not a wash and set. A haircut.

"All I do is haircuts," said Parker. "Barbers give haircuts. I'm a barber."

It says so right on the wall. A license for barbering that is updated each year as required by law, but with a decades-old black-and-white picture of a guy with wavy hair.

"I shave my head now," said Parker. "Twice a week. Do it myself. Cut my wife's hair too. We been married 50 years, too."

But Parker, 69, with three children and five grandchildren, doesn't talk much about himself in the early morning as men come for haircuts. They have come from the time haircuts were 50 cents and they come now that haircuts are "as much as they will give me," in Parker's pricing guide.

Most people drop $10.

The oldies music switches to "Sweet City Woman." A hit by the Stampeders - in 1971.

"I'm only as good as my customers," Parker said. "I got some good ones."

"I better be good - I been coming in here for as long as you been cuttin' hair," comes a voice from a waiting chair belonging to a character named Paul Tinker. "Never got a discount, either."

"I only give discounts on Saturdays," Parker said.

"Yeah, you are closed on Saturdays," calls out Tinker.

The father of a high school wrestler wants a brush cut - he even gets his eyebrows buzzed with the clipper.

Another guy who has been in once a month for 30 years gets a cut and his neck trimmed. All necks are trimmed.

A third guy gets a haircut. Each cut takes about 10 minutes, tops.

The bib-like apron around the neck, the haircut with scissors and clipper, the trim, the whisk with soft brush, then the air gun to blow all the hair to the floor for sweeping. All spiced with a bit of small talk about kids and grandkids, hips that hurt and knees that swell.

Every man pays, and offers some tip.

"Whatever I get, I appreciate it," said Parker of the tips. "I have gotten some big ones over the years. I'm a barber because it's all I ever knowed how to do."

Bill Parker knows barbering pretty darn good after five decades.

And after each person is done, Parker says, "Come on back now."

They always do.

Some customers are in the third or fourth generation. Wes Burton brings his son, as his father brought him. It was Burton, and a few other regulars, who chipped in and bought Parker a plaque commemorating 50 years in business. It is on the wall, next to the barber college diploma from 1961.

When a cut is done, the next person takes the chair. No appointments, ever. The order is how the men show up on Tuesday and Thursday and Friday until 4:30 p.m. - the only days Parker is open after 50 years. He closes from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and heads home for a nap, then comes back for whomever shows up.

"If it is busy I work, and if it ain't I wait 'til it is," said Parker.

The past 45 years he's been in the same spot on East White Street, in the shadow of the old Highland Park Mill that is now a retirement home.

Monday and Wednesday, he often heads to nursing homes or retirement centers - to give haircuts.

"I go where my customers are," Parker said. "Most of 'em are right here though. They know where to find me."

The tiny building has a sign that says "Bill's Barber Shop" but it is a sign not needed.

The customers know.

Lindell Williams comes in, takes a seat to wait a minute because this is a barbershop and nobody is in a hurry and if they were it is too darn bad anyway. He talks about how his daddy and him have been getting haircuts from Bill Parker for about 46 years.

By then the music is "96 tears," by "? and the Mysterians." The song came out in 1966 - the same year Lindell Williams received his first Bill Parker haircut.

"I know him and he knows me and he's as good a guy as there is," Williams said.

A guy who used to be a train conductor comes in, laughing about blowing the whistle to Bill Parker as he passed by on the tracks behind the shop for 30 years before coming later in the day for a haircut.

The song on the radio by then is the 1960s Johnny Rivers version of the old railroad tune, "Midnight Special."

"I cut hair for the railroad men, more people from Bowater than I can count, anybody who ever comes in - even women if they want me to cut their hair," said Parker.

"Few times had to tell people to wash their hair first and come back - no excuse for dirty hair. Takes a minute to clean it. Only one time I didn't cut somebody's hair here, and that's because that man come in here drunk. Never know what a drunk'll do. Told him to come back when he was sober, and it's been 20 years or more and he never come back yet," said Parker.

"Don't know if he ever got his hair cut or he sobered up, neither."

This shop has no drinkin' or cussin' or smokin'.

"We got enough lyin' to please everybody," Parker said.

There is just one chair and one barber.

A partner named Red worked with him, two chairs side-by-side, in the late 1960s, but since then it has been just Parker and his reputation for a clean cut at a fair price in a spot with magazines for hunting and fishing and sports.

Of 17 older men who get haircuts on this Thursday morning, a eight took out hearing aids before the haircut, to avoid hair trimmings messing up the electronics.

In the door comes Darvin Dover, long retired from the Rock Hill Police Department where he was not an officer, but a legend over more than 30 years.

Dover knows a character when he sees one like he sees in Bill Parker - he is one himself.

"Known Bill a long time, come here a long time, and we both are always happy when its done," said Dover.

Bob Gardner, a retired Bowater engineer, pops in for a trim.

"Eighteen, 20 years I've been coming here," said Gardner.

Then Wade Belk, choir director at Park Baptist Church a block away, ducks inside for a haircut.

"Only been coming here for 40, 42 years, since I was in high school," said Belk. "Bill's been a good friend the whole time. He has a good story for you every time. The best deal in town, too.

"Make me look good," Bill," Belk said.

Parker chuckles. His voice is soft, his demeanor gentle. His wit is dry as sand and cuts like a switchblade.

"Can't do miracles, Wade," Parker said.

On the radio is Smoky Robinson and the Miracles from 1967: "Tears of a Clown."

Not a single customer all day has told Parker how he wants his hair cut. Or how long. Or anything else.

"I just know," Parker said. "I know them and I appreciate them. My customers, they been awful nice to me. I try to be nice to them."

The song on the radio, so soft it could barely be heard, is from 1961. The singer is from Lancaster, where Parker got his start in 1961 after growing up in Monroe, N.C. a few miles further east.

The singer is Maurice Williams. The song, with the Zodiacs backing, is "Stay." The one with, "Stay, aaaaah, just a little bit longer."

A song that was No. 1 in the country in late 1961, the same time Bill Parker started cutting hair in Rock Hill. He stayed, too.

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