By Bryce Abshier – Contact Bryce@TheVOSM.net
Before the days of cell phones and Facebook, many South Marion residents found out about town happenings the old fashioned way: while getting their haircut at the town barbershop. One such place, Walt’s Barbershop, left an impression that has not been forgotten. Even though the late Walter Reaves officially closed the doors to his business in 2001, the legend has lived on.
Walter Reaves, or just “Walt the barber” as many locals knew him, passed away on Friday, July 7, 2017. From 1956 until the time he retired in 2001, Mr. Reaves gave what he estimated to be a quarter of a million haircuts to South Marion residents.
Walt’s first barber license hung on the back wall of his barbershop. It was dated February 2, 1956 and it only cost him $2.00. When Walt finished his tour in the Navy, he went to Florida Barber College in Jacksonville. He was notified on Feb. 10, 1956 that he had passed his State Barber’s exam and he went to work at the Belleview barbershop the very same day.
Of those quarter of a million haircuts, Walt could recount some of his personal favorites. “When Greg McWhite and Arthur White (now the owner of White’s Furniture in Summerfield) were playing football at Lake Weir High School, they came in one day with some of their other teammates and they all wanted Mohawk haircuts, with just one strip of hair down the middle of their heads,” said Reaves. ‘’I’ll never forget that day.”
Reaves was born and raised on a farm in Ocala, near the current location of the Paddock Mall. He loved to coon hunt and mule ride. He worked for the original barbershop owner in Belleview, Mr. Anderson Gillard, for two years and then bought the shop. Gillard then worked for Walt for two and a half years before retiring.
Back then, haircuts did not change a lot over the years according to Reaves. Styles would get longer and shorter depending on the decade, but they were all pretty much the same. In a 1992 interview, Walt remembered the times of cutting hair without air conditioning in the shop. “The thing that has changed is the equipment we are using is much better now and air conditioning makes a big difference,” he said. “Customers are a lot more comfortable now than they were in the days before air conditioning.”
Naturally, the prices changed a lot from 1956 to 2001. When Reaves started in Belleview, hair cuts were 90¢ and shaves were 60¢.
When Walt first went to work in 1956, the shop was in a wooden building that stood at the intersection of US 441 and CR 484. He moved to another shop, located just a few hundred feet from the old location, in 1970. For many years, Reaves had two other barbers in the shop, Mac Lofler, who was with him for nearly 30 years, and Buddy DeHart.
“I’ve always enjoyed the barber business,” Reaves once said. “One thing I like about it is that you get to visit with a lot of people a few minutes at a time. When a person gets in your chair to get his hair cut you are one on one with that person. After a few minutes, someone different is in the chair. I really enjoy being with people. Not everyone wants to talk, but that’s all right too. I found out I can learn something from everyone and everyone has an interesting story.”
A recent Facebook post by the Voice of South Marion shared an old photo of Walt in his barbershop. It did not take long for memories to start pouring in. Here are a few things that locals had to say as they reminisced about Walt’s Barbershop:
“Such a treasure! He was my brother in laws uncle and a dear family friend, gave my sons their every haircut until he retired and moved away…”
“Mr. Walt could have you in & out in 10 minutes. I enjoyed a zillion flat tops & high & tights.”
– Lawrence Charles Quartararo
“From Carl …. “Walt cut my hair from my childhood until I was about 45 yo. At 45 he said, he was not charging me to cut my hair. He was charging me for finding hair to cut!”
– Susie Willoughby
“Haircut and then ice cream next door”
– Rick Goodman
“He cut 4 generations of my family!”
– Cheryl Siniard Boutwell
“Great memories! Grateful for Mr. Walt, who was always humble and kind.”
– Daniel Brown
“I still have Mac barber leather straps and straight razor and clippers he gave me what a great friend he was”
– Harley Hutchin
“Got just about every childhood haircut at Walt’s.”
– Jason Pennington
“Mac was definitely the man he was an awesome Barber”
– Melanie Russell
“Aww I remember going with my dad all the time”
– Shannon Morris