Barber carries on family haircare tradition

Legacy Families Series

He’d like to see some young barbers with older barbers’ dedication, respect
Eddie L. Withers, Jr.
Eddie L. Withers, Jr.

For more than two generations and across both Twin Cities, a father-and-son team have provided haircare services to Minnesotans. The MSR sat down with Eddie Withers, Jr. to discuss how this journey began, how his business is going currently, and what wisdom he has to offer to aspiring barbers.

Edward L. Withers became a barber at an early age. He was born in Duluth, Minnesota and played football and basketball at Duluth Central High School. His family moved to Minneapolis after he graduated from high school, and he then began to pursue his haircare dreams. Several years later he began looking into owning a barbershop, which he accomplished in 1948 at the age of 24.

He met and married Geraldine Davis, a graduate of Minneapolis Central High School, and they had two sons, Eddie Jr. and Gerald. In 1957, after the couple had decided to buy land to build a barbershop to replace their first, they worked very hard. After much planning, including meeting with an architect and contractors, they decided on a St. Paul location that would give them space for a multiple-use facility on Rondo Avenue in St. Paul.

Not only did the Withers undergo many city delays, they also endured opposition from the South Minneapolis community in which they lived, because the community strongly wanted the business to be located in their neighborhood. After starting under his father and cutting hair in the St. Paul location, in May of 1970 Eddie Jr. opened his own shop at 4301 4th Avenue South in Minneapolis.

Eddie Jr. has been at that location ever since. “I worked with my father in St. Paul for a while. He is the one who got me into barbering. I was a son who wanted to emulate my father. My mother, Geraldine, was born here, and my father was born in Duluth, and I was born and raised here, in South Minneapolis, ” he said.

Asked how things are going for him currently, he replied, “Things are a little slow, as far as barbering is concerned, but the main thing with this skill is to be here. A lot of young barbers come and go, not realizing that the main thing is to have your hours. Stick to your hours and be here. Take care of your business and things usually fall in place. People get their hair cut on the run. We cannot afford to open late and close early.”

Asked about his future plans, Eddie Jr. said, “I am 70 now, and I have two daughters, both college graduates with Masters Degrees. I feel real good, and I can keep on doing this until I don’t feel good. I just plan on coming to work and taking care of my family. My wife has cancer, but she is now doing well and I am in full support of her staying well.

“I wished to have a nice barbershop, and I got that. The only thing I need now are some people to work with me, who are as dedicated and [as] sincere as I am. I would like to have some young barbers come here, with the older barber’s dedication and respect for the business.

“My kids are doing well, but our children today are missing something. I’ve been here now for 45 years, and when I first got here kids were a little more respectful. But there was a mother and a father in the home.

“Nowadays, we seem to have taken a turn for the worse,” Withers continued. “No disrespect intended on my part, but all this single parenting is not working. Children are trying to raise themselves, and that is why we are having the problems we are having — no respect for their elders. This is something new.

“We must talk to our kids, but first love [ourselves]. Once we start loving ourselves, then there will be a big change. These young people need to go see movies like Selma, so they can know about our history, our plight over the years… So many of us died to get to where we are today. I mean stuff like just to be able to vote. So many lives were lost in that struggle, so many lives shattered!

“Our kids don’t know about self. They need to be taught about self, so they can better love themselves. Only then will things change for the better.”

As to his life’s work, “This is a respectful place where you can come down and get a good haircut, while having a nice conversation, and it’s a very nice looking shop. I’ve been here all my life, a long time.

“Remember, once we start loving [ourselves] and respecting ourselves, there will be positive change. We must learn our history.”

Raymond Jackson welcomes reader responses to rayjackson49@yahoo.com.