JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Back in 1958, Don Lowe started it all, this more than 200-year legacy of barbering in Jacksonville.
After his time with the Navy at Cecil Field down in Florida, he was back home in Big Rapids, Mich., where he did some factory jobs, then got himself a dump truck to do work on roads.
His younger brother Glen picks up the story: The truck was broken down, again, and Don, in frustration, said he was going back to Florida, to barbering school, on the GI Bill.
That sounded good to Glen, a fresh 1958 grad of Big Rapids High.
“Wait until I sell my car and I’ll go with you,” he told his brother.
That wasn’t all: A friend, Bob McCracken, joined the brothers. They all went south, and all became Jacksonville barbers.
And in 1963, they were joined by yet another Lowe brother, Cal, who was running a service station in Michigan and had grown tired of listening to the rest of them yak about playing golf on Christmas Day.
All three Lowe brothers kept cutting hair over the decades, from flat-tops to shags to flat-tops again (you’d be surprised, perhaps, at the demand for flat-tops even today).
They were joined in the trade by Cal’s daughter, Gennifer Wright, who did some figuring one day and counted up 203 years of barbering experience in just this one family.
Don is 87, Cal is 83 and Glen is 79, but they’re all fairly recent retirees.
The father of the Lowe brothers was Marcus Lionel Lowe, a Pentecostal preacher who kept the family on the move: Montana, Ontario, North Dakota, Michigan.
Once his boys got to Northeast Florida, though, they stuck.
Don worked at Lee’s Barber Shop on Peach, just off Beach, from 1960 until he retired there years ago.
At first Cal and Glen worked at a King’s Department Store, cutting hair, until it closed.
Glen went on to Statesman Barber Shop at Gateway Shopping Center for 12 years, then worked for almost four decades alongside eventual Jacksonville City Council member Don Redman at Don’s Sportsman Barber Shop on Belfort Road.
Cal opened Cal’s a short distance away in 1968, then moved in 2003 to Spring Glen Road, to a deliberately nothing-fancy place with two barbering chairs and decorations that run toward gum machines, car magazines and a deer head on the wall.
That’s where all three brothers met recently.
Their old friend from Michigan, Bob McCracken, ran a shop in Marietta for decades and no doubt would’ve joined them too, but he passed away not too long ago.
Cal’s is still in business, run by his daughter, Wright.
“I’m only 19, but I’ve been cutting hair for 32 years in March,” she cracked.
She went to beauty school but couldn’t abide the harsh chemicals, so she came to work with her dad at Cal’s. Now that he’s retired, she misses her daily conversations with him, both at Cal’s and in the car as they commuted.
The barbers agree their jobs are as much about chatting with people as cutting hair.
Divorces and marriages, new jobs and losing jobs, kids and grandkids, just for starters. And yes, politics.
“To me, they’re more than haircuts,” Wright said of her customers at Cal’s.