Originally created 09/30/03

Columbia barber to the elite leads national group



COLUMBIA, S.C. -- A 56-year-old Columbia barber who trims Lou Holtz, retired megabanker Hootie Johnson and governors has reached the top of his profession.

Ed Barnes, a 37-year-veteran of shearing the heads and shaving the sideburns and necks of the state's elite, is the first South Carolinian to head the National Association of Barber Boards of America.

Barnes, who jokes about his humble roots, took that honor last week.

Not too bad for "a little old boy from Batesburg, South Carolina," Barnes said. "My wife thought I'd be just a regular old barber. And, as it turns out, here I am."

Like hemlines, Barnes has seen hairlines fall and rise through the years.

"I've been through the Beatles, with the long hair, to now. People come in and get it shaved off. I've been through quite a bit with it, and I've seen it change," Barnes said.

"It is a profession I dearly love. I've always thought that I could do anything in my life that I wanted to do."

Barnes has cut the hair of University of South Carolina presidents and, since Paul Dietzel, every University of South Carolina head football coach, including Holtz.

He's also clipped every governor since Bob McNair, with the exception of that office's current occupant, Mark Sanford. Why? "I don't know," Barnes said. "I don't want to say. Remember, I'm trying to get reappointed."

He has been, in a way. Sanford recently nominated Barnes for another term on the State Board of Barber Examiners. He's been there for 15 years since then-Gov. Carroll Campbell appointed him and Republican David Beasley and Democrat Jim Hodges reappointed him.

Still, it's tough to get an appointment with Barnes, whose appointment book stays full.

He has built his notable client list largely through word of mouth and by staying put.

His words of advice to barbers who want to be successful: Don't move around.

"I've worked in two places my entire life. If you ever want to build a clientele, you have to stay in one place."

His customers are remain loyal.

Ed Mullins, a senior partner at Columbia's Nelson Mullins Riley and Scarborough, calls Barnes the best barber in the world.

"I didn't care much about my hair. He taught me how to treat it and look better," Mullins said. "He's just a cut above the rest. I've sent a lot of people to him."

With Augusta National and Masters chairman Hootie Johnson, the conversation often turns to golf, a game that Barnes loves.

Johnson, one of Barnes' biggest fans, is thrilled Barnes is the first South Carolinian heading the national association.

"He cuts just about anybody who is supposed to be anybody in Columbia," Johnson said, adding that anyone who gets to the top of his or her profession deserves recognition.

While the Labor Department says the average annual income for a barber is only $21,380, good barbers don't have to settle for low pay, Barnes said.

"There is a lot of money made in this business," he said. "You've got people that can hit six figures."