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Old fashioned barbering

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By Tom Wilmoth

For more than 40 years, Tom Gentry has been running a barber shop the old fashioned way.

"It's like the one I've had all my career," he said of his new shop.

And he's not about to change. Take this sign that hangs in his shop as an example: "A haircut without a shave is like a hot fudge sundae without a cherry on top."

Gentry, who recently moved to Forest with his wife Elizabeth, opened up Tom's Barber Shop last month in Bedford. The shop is located in the By-Pass Business Center at 800B Blue Ridge Avenue.

Gentry moved here from Blairsville, Ga., where he had established a successful barber shop. The couple moved to the area to be closer to his wife's family in Lynchburg. He chose Bedford for his new shop because he liked the area.

"It's still going strong," he said of his former shop. He hopes the Bedford shop will take off as well.

Gentry said most of the barber shops now have gone the route of beauty shops, letting go of many of the old ways of being a barber. Gentry learned the trade in barber school back in 1961, attending barber school. He was living in Florida at the time, but his parents talked him in to moving to Richmond to be with them, telling him they would pay for his schooling.

That set the direction for his life.

Barbering has changed some over the years. Gentry doesn't singe anymore. That was something he learned in barber school when the belief was that hair was hollow and that process sealed the oil in the hair.

Gentry said a lot of people don't know where the barber pole came from. Way before his time, barbers used to pull teeth. "They would take a white towel and mop up the blood with the towel. They had a blue medication and put it on there and they would take their towel and lay it across the front window. When people came to town they would see the red, white and blue towel and they would know that was a barber shop and a dentist."

Gentry said must of the beauticians never learned to do facial shaves. "A lot of the old barbers just got lazy and quit doing them, too," he said.

But not Gentry. "If you call yourself an old-fashioned barber you ought to at least do some of the things."

Over the years flat tops were a favorite cut. Gentry said it resembles an aircraft carrier.

"We're the experts of tapering hair," he said of barbers. "Beauticians are the experts of long hair." They do layering, instead.

Out of necessity, Gentry said a lot of barbers have gotten better at cutting long hair. Gentry's wife worked as a beautician for 25 years, and he's seen the differences.

"I wouldn't no more how to do a perm than the man on the moon," he said of the difference. He wants his shop to smell like a barber shop.

He said barbers didn't want to work on youth with long hair, when that style became popular. "We'd say 'Get out of here.' We kind of ran the business out."

Gentry is hoping he can build his business up here, as he did in Georgia, and "finish off my days here."

Gentry said he stays with the basics: no styling. "I don't do any facial shaves any more, but I still shave the neck."

His shop is decorated with nostalgia. Gentry's a fan of the '50s.

Currently the shop is opened Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to noon; and is closed Monday, Thursday and Sunday. "I'm trying to slow down some, but I still need to work and make a living," Gentry said.

He believes there's still a need for old-fashioned barber shops.

Hair cuts cost $10 at Tom's Barber Shop, $9 for a crew cut. Flat tops are $11.

Gentry said youth are also finding that barbers are faster, more reasonable and better at shorter hair. And, he said, barber shops provide a place for a man to get a haircut and "shoot the bull."

"We can tell our fish stories, our jokes and our lies, and everything else that comes with it."