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‘Connection, community and a great haircut’: Fort Mill barber shop tradition continues

Generations of Fort Mill men know the drill. Stop in. Wait your turn. Then take a seat for that first cut.

Add the Caskeys to the list.

What? Don’t recognize the name?

Steve Caskey is only the unofficial mayor of Main Street.

“Older Fort Mill people, a lot of them will call me Wormy,” he said. “People that’s moved in, a lot of them call me Steve.”

Wormy, 67, just started his 49th year in the barbering business. He has 38 years at Fort Mill Barber Shop, where the newest employee behind the chair knows all about the name.

“So many times growing up, people asked me who my dad was,” said Tyler Caskey. “’Steve Caskey. Who’s that? Wormy. Aw, I know Wormy! He cuts my hair.’ That’s just the way it was.”

Tyler, 39, looks enough like Wormy for some customers to ask. Both are part of a story that’s a Springs peach and a bandstand short of being the most Fort Mill tale ever told.

The family business

Tyler was as a Fort Mill police officer. He worked at a Rock Hill cemetery. Yet the half dozen years of contract work in Iraq got him thinking about home. More than 1,900 hours of training and work at Lakeside Barbers in Lake Wylie later, he’s standing at the chair right beside Wormy’s.

“You’re away from everything,” Tyler said of the overseas work. “You’re away from your family. I missed a lot of things with my kids that I’ll never get back like first steps, first words.”

Wormy gets why Tyler might take to the family business to reconnect. So far the pair rather likes having the other so close.

“It’s different,” Wormy said. “I guess I know a little bit how daddy felt when I started working.”

Henry Caskey started barber school in 1949. He spent a brief time on Main in the early 1950s, but much longer in the Palmetto Corner group of Fort Mill buildings near Elisha Park.

“He worked down the street in a barbershop,” Wormy said. “He worked in the mill some, done different things and then somewhere along about 1959, he opened his own shop up.”

Henry started the barbering trend, unknowingly adding flavor to the Fort Mill haircut scene for generations. He’s the reason Steve became Wormy.

“My daddy gave me that name,” Wormy said. “He said I wouldn’t be still. He said I was like a wiggle worm.”

Bringing Tyler on harkens Wormy to time with his own father. It’s why Wormy will answer questions when asked, and keep to himself otherwise. He’ll let Tyler find what works best for him. It may be the way Wormy does it. It may not.

“It’s pretty much what I expected,” Wormy said. “I’ve been through this on his end. You’ve got to let him learn.”

Shaping Fort Mill

Chris Moody is a fast-as-he-could guy. He isn’t from Fort Mill, but got here as fast as he could. He moved to town in 2001, before his three kids were born. Now, Moody serves on town council.

“Like stepping back in time,” Moody says of his regular barbershop. “Nostalgic.”

Moody became friends with Wormy in 2015 during his first council run.

“I quickly found out he is a good ally to have in politics,” Moody said.

Moody learned to jump into the shift-long conversations that don’t seem to stop with any particular customer. It’s how Moody once met the president of Darlington Raceway in the shop. It’s how Wormy saved his bacon that one time, after Steve Spurrier left the Gamecocks and Moody lamented Carolina wouldn’t be much good that fall.

Wormy clarified Moody meant the University of South Carolina. Sitting in his chair was then Fort Mill resident and Carolina Panthers assistant general manager Brandon Beane.

“I was glad I wasn’t talking bad about the Panthers that day,” Moody said.

Politicians often show up unannounced. None more than a certain 24-year town mayor who walks in almost daily for a cup of coffee, sometimes even a cut. Wormy insists Charlie Powers is the old mayor. Told the traditional tact is to call him former mayor in a news story, Wormy and his staff aren’t having it.

“Just say former old mayor,” Wormy said.

Powers has been called worse. There may be no better friend of the shop. Yet he’ll also wait until he spots a first-timer. Then he’ll abruptly get up with his coffee and walk out saying he’ll get his cut elsewhere. Wormy tells him he should.

“I pick at them sometimes,” Powers said.

Even sentimental moments turn into digs. Tyler’s first cut in Fort Mill was the “former old mayor.”

“That made the third generation to cut my hair,” Powers said. “Wormy’s daddy cut my hair, Wormy cut for years and now Tyler’s cut it.”

So?

“I got a better haircut this time,” Powers said.

Tyler has the chair nearest to the front door, to the morning spectacle.

“Watching them bash each other is really entertaining,” he said. “They can be ruthless with each other sometimes.”

Sometimes Tyler gets caught in the crossfire. A barber there hasn’t arrived until he’s been on the end of a Powers barb. The “former old mayor” didn’t wait long when Tyler started. That was a week before the shop closed for its summer vacation.

“The only fella I ever know to work a week and take two weeks vacation,” Powers said.

‘The place to go’

The current mayor of Fort Mill, of course, is Guynn Savage.

“If you pick up any novel about a small town,” she said, “you will generally find a reference to its Main Street and the business people that day in and out serve and in many ways bind the community.”

The Fort Mill Barber Shop sits at the heart of it. Savage recalls her 95-year-old grandfather walking out feeling 18 again with a fresh crew cut.

“The youthful feeling was as much about connecting with the heart of the community that my grandfather found at the barber shop,” Savage said. “Wormy stands tall in not only his craft but in the respect and love of all that know him. His shop is an active hub that draws young and old alike because you can find his welcome to be warm and sincere.”

For all the grief they give one another, Powers respects Wormy and the Main Street shop. Just like Powers did the shop down the street all those years ago.

“It was just like Wormy’s,” Powers said. “It was the place to go. There, they played checkers all day. Wormy’s dad would quit cutting hair and he’d play a game of checkers right quick.”

The checkers may be gone, but the atmosphere with Wormy remains.

“To hear that his son will follow in his footsteps brings a smile to me as I know that this legacy will continue,” Savage said. “One of connection, community and of course a great haircut.

Just getting better

The barbering business has seen change. Tyler trained plenty on a recent trend, the pompadour. But much of what he’ll do mimics how his grandfather worked.

“Hair gets on everything,” Tyler said. “That’s to be expected.”

Wormy can’t recall too many off the wall requests over the years, even as the world around the shop has changed dramatically. He can’t recall having to look up custom cuts.

“I don’t know where I’d look,” Wormy said. “Now you can Google anything.”

Tyler has something better than Google for figuring out the business.

“Just getting better at it,” he said. “When I do a haircut, (that) it looks like when they do it. Smooth and pretty. Not to say that mine don’t look good, but you can tell when someone’s been doing this a long time. It’s just effortless. I have to really try. I’ll get there.”

Tyler already has one part of the business down cold. He has a lifetime of Fort Mill recollection to share. How he won state titles marching in the high school band back when Fort Mill had only the one. How mom handled uniforms and dad ran pit crew. And, he was a police officer.

Tyler isn’t Wormy. He drives into work from Rock Hill. He picks his moments to take a dig.

“I’m prettier,” Tyler said.

Like his father and grandfather, Tyler will spend plenty of time sweeping up hair, asking customers what look they have in mind, talking about weather and events of the day. Children will come in for their first cuts, just like some of their daddies or granddaddies did.

They’ll fidget. They’ll squirm. They’ll get a little wormy.

Some things never change.

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