On Labor Day weekend in 1962, fresh out of barbering school, Russell Greiner walked into Day and Sanderson Barber Shop on Lumpkin Road and asked for a chance.
The owners told him to get to work.
Fifty years after Greiner started barbering in south Augusta, his Russell’s Corner Barber Shop has stayed the keeper of the old-school techniques. He knows most customers by name, cuts as many as four generations in one family and finishes every cut with something most modern shops have forgotten – a warm shave.
“This is the best job anybody could have,” said Greiner, 76. “The people. The work. You’re in the air conditioning. You got heat. You don’t have to work outside.”
The cash register is the same wooden box his predecessors used and dates to the 1940s. Aside from changing the name and adding some more chairs, he kept the place much the same as when he took over the shop from Sanderson in 1988.
When customers are thirsty, they can get a Coca-Cola from a 1960s machine, which spits out the soda for 50 cents and has a bottle opener built in the faded side.
His shop is decorated with mementos from the past – old Coke bottles, pictures of retro Cadillacs and the famous spiraling barber pole outside.
But the most precious antique, his customers say, are Greiner’s haircuts themselves.
“He’s the only one you can come in to get the old-fashioned hot shave,” said Gary Smith, a customer of 14 years. “He’s been standing on his feet for a long time – and running his mouth the whole time, too.”
Alan Herndon, 58, first started getting hair cuts at Russell’s when he was 6 years old. Now Herdon takes his grandchildren in to see “the best barber in town.”
Of Greiner’s three employees, Terri Norris and Wayne Rogers have been using the same barber chairs at the shop for almost 20 years. Rogers found barbering much like Greiner did. He was young, needed a good job and had a knack for making people look good.
“It’s just like anything else,” said Rogers, 65. “I needed to get a job doing something. I tried other things at some points. Worked at a paint and body shop – didn’t like it. … was a contractor building houses, but that was too much work. I always went right back to barbering.”
Rebecca Bartlett, the shop’s newest employee of a year and a half, said Greiner taught her all the techniques of barbering when she came to his shop out of a career in hairstyling.
Still, Greiner said there is a need for more barbers who cut the old-fashioned way and can keep the culture alive. Barbering has evolved now to a more fast-paced business, he said.
Greiner values the friendly atmosphere, where all of his customers are friends and all conversation is fair game.
“That’s the first thing that they tell you not to do, don’t talk about politics or religion in public,” he said. “It’s not polite. Except at the barbershop. That’s all we do.”
Although he hopes more people will pick up the craft, Greiner is happy to carry on the tradition for now. He has no plans on quitting or slowing down. There is too much work to be done.
“I’m going to die in that chair. And I want my ashes up above there,” he said, pointing to his shelf.