Kenneth Chesshir is a barber. When he talks about his barbershop—founded by his grandfather in 1914—he sits in one of the shop’s original chairs.
“There are four,” he explains. “Two on the floor, one by the entrance, and I have one at home. They were manufactured in 1900, and what stories they could relate if they could talk.”
Chesshir, who is 65 but doesn’t look it, does his best to fill the void.
“My grandfather was Ed Baskin,” he says. “The original barbershop was right next to the Bee-Picayune,” he says. “It’s an eye doctor’s office now.”
By the time his father, Walter, took over, the business was across the street from the post office, and later in the 100 block of Hefferman Street.
THE CHESSHIR barbershop has been at 508 E. Houston St. for 30 years.
Just as the foundation of a barbershop is repeat customers, Chesshir just kept coming back to the business.
“I went to barbershop school in San Antonio,” he recalls. “My first job was at the Rialto barbershop next to the theater. My first customer was Jeff Latcham (the co-publisher of the paper). $1.25.”
Other vocations kept calling, though.
He spent more than eight years in the United States Coast Guard working in the engine rooms of various cutters.
“I cut hair on the side for pocket money,” he said.
He took courses for three years at what was then Bee County College. “But I kept cutting hair part-time.”
Then he went to work as a brakeman for the Missouri Pacific Railroad.
“But, I kept coming back to barbering.”
He was cutting hair in Victoria when his father died.
“I returned to Beeville and took over the business.”
And, he ran for mayor.
“I’ve always liked to swing the bat,” he explained, noting that as a barber, he knew a lot of people.
HE WAS mayor from 1996 to 2009.
“It was the easiest job I ever had,” he laughs. “I surrounded myself with good people and let them do it. More than that, do you know any city council that will admit it’s wrong?” he asks.
“I did. There was many a time I said I was wrong and the other guy was right.”
Later in a conversation, he labeled barbering as being just as easy, partly because of how being a barber has evolved.
“When I got started, we used to do more shaves. I stopped shaving people 30 years ago.”
The only remnant of those close-shaved days are a dozen shaving razors on display in a frame on the wall—turned from tools to art.
“The old barbers used to have four or five of them, all with different sharpness. They knew their customers; some needed razors sharper or duller than others.”
Equally sharp is his customer-relations policy, learned from many years standing behind barber chairs. “The customer is always right,” he says. He may often describe his career as an all-day talk show, but he learned the hard way about when not to contradict his customer.
“I had a man ask me about toupees,” Chesshir says. “I explained that whether you bought a cheap one or an expensive one, you can always tell when someone is wearing one. The guy in the chair next to me looked me straight in the eye and asked, ‘if your teeth were knocked out, would you replace them?’ I said I would. ‘Then shut your damn mouth!’”
A CENTURY AGO, haircuts cost 13 cents, he says. Today, that same haircut costs $13—an increase of about 13 cents a year.
On a typical day—Monday-Friday, 9 to 5:30 — he cuts the hair of 20 customers, “although I’ve had as many as 50 and sometimes only eight or nine.”
Each haircut, he says, takes about eight to 10 minutes.
“It’s shorter if I just shut up.”
He recalls, “If this chair could just talk. Bum Phillips (former Houston Oilers head coach) was one of my customers.
“Over the years, people have gotten their first haircut in this chair—and their last.”
GIVING A child his first haircut has been the downfall of many a barber.
“My father used to say, ‘If you look out the window and see a woman looking like she’s dragging something, you’re in trouble.’ You just dive in and get it over. I remember chasing a youngster as he moved his head this way and that; then he got out of the chair and ran under a sink. When it was all over, his mother asked, ‘Don’t you have a discount for children?’”
Over the years, Chesshir has acquired regular customers far from the borders of Beeville. “I have people who drive here from Victoria, Three Rivers, Live Oak County...and I know people who live three blocks from here who wouldn’t come in here at the point of a gun.
“I knew a man who said he went to the same barber for 40 years and never got a good haircut, but he said the BS was worth it.”
“How much do I owe you?” a customer asks.
“Thirteen dollars,” Chesshir says. And, with no hesitation, adds: “Or, a couple of laying hens, whichever.”
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.