Daily Egyptian

Carbondale barber shop carries its community (PHOTOS)

Kent+Mason%2C+71%2C+sprays+the+hair+of+Mary+Harvey%2C+89%2C+of+Metropolis%2C+at+his+Carbondale+barber+shop%2C+Arnette%27s%2C+on+Thursday%2C+Nov.+4%2C+2016.+%28Anna+Spoerre+%7C+%40annaspoerre%29
Kent Mason, 71, sprays the hair of Mary Harvey, 89, of Metropolis, at his Carbondale barber shop, Arnette's, on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2016. (Anna Spoerre | @annaspoerre)

Kent Mason, 71, sprays the hair of Mary Harvey, 89, of Metropolis, at his Carbondale barber shop, Arnette's, on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2016. (Anna Spoerre | @annaspoerre)

Kent Mason, 71, sprays the hair of Mary Harvey, 89, of Metropolis, at his Carbondale barber shop, Arnette's, on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2016. (Anna Spoerre | @annaspoerre)

By Anna Spoerre

At least half a dozen cars let out friendly honks as they passed a 71-year-old man standing in the shadow of a small red, brick building, his arm raised up in a wave.

Kent Mason stepped inside and began trimming the white curly hair of an 89-year old woman.

“Afros are always in style,” Mason said, smiling as he gently took a pick to the woman’s freshly-cut do.

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It is Mason’s 51st year working at Arnette’s, a small barber shop located on the corner of East Oak and North Washington streets in Carbondale.

From left to right: Henry Traylor, John Chambers and Kent Mason wave to people driving past Arnette's barber shop. (Anna Spoerre | @annaspoerre)

From left to right: Henry Traylor, John Chambers and Kent Mason wave to people driving past Arnette’s barber shop. (Anna Spoerre | @annaspoerre)

The business has serviced the city’s predominantly African American northeast side since 1945, the same year Mason was born just a few blocks away.

“All these years I’ve been here, it’s never a job,” said Mason, a man with a full head of white hair, wearing a black button up vest pulled over his T-shirt.

The outside of his shop sports a large mural of barber accessories and an old red, white and blue “Arnette’s” sign above the front door. It is more than a business for much of the city.

“Barber shops are everything to the community,” said Lee Hughes, 39. “People need it like food for the soul.”

From left to right: DJ Hogan, a senior at Carbondale Community High School, Lee Hughes, Taliq Montegomery and Terrence Upchurch laugh together just before the shop closes up at 8 p.m. on Nov. 2, 2016. (Anna Spoerre | @annaspoerre)

From left to right: DJ Hogan, a senior at Carbondale Community High School, Lee Hughes, Taliq Montegomery and Terrence Upchurch laugh together just before the shop closes up at 8 p.m. on Nov. 2, 2016. (Anna Spoerre | @annaspoerre)

Hughes — a barber who, since 2007, rents out one of the four chairs in Mason’s shop — said most of the men who work there also mentor children in the neighborhood.

He said some youth, especially from the Boys and Girls Club nearby, will stop by on their way home. The barbers ask them about school and their grades. If they’re doing a good job, they might get a courtesy haircut.

“When you do something for someone else, you get the blessing,” Mason said.

Mason said he tries to provide a service to the community when he can, offering free cuts to people who can’t afford it and giving kids a bit of money to sweep around the shop. That, he said, gives him a chance to give advice to the next generation.

“I had a kid that came in and said, ‘Mr Kent, I wanted to beat somebody up, but I remembered you told me don’t fight,’” Mason said of the boy.

Taliq Montegomery grimaces as barber Terrence Upchurch rubs after shave on his face on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016, at Arnette’s barber shop. (Anna Spoerre | @annaspoerre)

Taliq Montegomery grimaces as barber Terrence Upchurch rubs after shave on his face on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016, at Arnette’s barber shop. (Anna Spoerre | @annaspoerre)

Though the younger crowd usually comes in the afternoon, mornings are Mason’s favorite time to be in the shop. On busy days, the chatter drowns out the blues songs playing in the background. The dozen or so seats along the opposite wall often stay crowded through the early afternoon as people wait for a barber.

“We just have a good time here,” Mason said. “I want people to come here and say this is their place. It’s beautiful. I love just sitting around talking to people.”

But the younger crowd comes out during the evening, after Mason leaves for the day.

On the night of the final World Series game between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians, the glass front door swung open and shut many times as people stopped in to say hi and catch part of the game.

“You don’t just get a haircut, you get an experience,” customer Elias Jackson said before he left the shop that night. “There are good vibes in here.”

Half a dozen electric razors hang from the side of a cabinet at Arnette’s barber shop, which has been open since 1945. (Anna Spoerre | @annaspoerre)

Half a dozen electric razors hang from the side of a cabinet at Arnette’s barber shop, which has been open since 1945. (Anna Spoerre | @annaspoerre)

Mason attributes the shop’s good reputation to the store’s first owner, Charles Arnette.

“Mr. Arnette is like a father,” Mason said. “Working in this shop, you’ve got to learn how to talk to people.”

Before Arnette died in 1983, he asked Mason to take over the shop, which Mason said he couldn’t have done without the help of his fellow barber and best friend, James Morgan, who later became a preacher in Peoria.

And, if it weren’t for Morgan’s help decades earlier, Mason said he probably would have ended up in jail.

“I wasn’t a bad guy, but I hung with everybody, and if you hang out with the wrong crowd, something is going to happen,” Mason said of his younger self, fresh out of high school. “I thought that’s what you were supposed to do — do nothing. I learned you’ve got to do more than just sit there.”

Kent Mason writes down an appointment in his planner that he keeps in his pocket as he works from his shop on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2016. (Anna Spoerre | @annaspoerre)

Kent Mason writes down an appointment in his planner that he keeps in his pocket as he works from his shop on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2016. (Anna Spoerre | @annaspoerre)

Mason said one day while he was hanging out at a basketball court, Morgan stopped by and told him to load his stuff in the truck.

The two of them took off for Springfield, Mason not realizing that a year later he would be a fresh graduate of the National Barber College, landing a job at Arnette’s shortly after.

Morgan died about five years ago at the age of 66.

“I really miss him, I really do,” Mason said.

In Arnette’s, a black and white portrait hangs above the row of mirrors. A 21-year-old Mason smiles next one of the black swiveling chair with Arnette and Morgan to his left.

Fifty years later, not much besides the trending hairstyles has changed, Mason said.

With Arnette gone, Mason now fills the role of a father figure on the block.

“He’s taught me things about life, about my children, career stuff, saving,” Hughes said.

This consistency in commitment to the community is something Hughes also appreciates.

He said more often, barber shops are acting like fast food joints where busy people just run in and out.

“But the barber shop is everything to the community,” Hughes said. “It’s where we talk politics, family, religion. We debate about sports, we build strong families. … Without that barber shop, a lot of people wouldn’t have an avenue for those type of communicative things.”

Kent Mason, 71, cuts the hair of Mary Harvey, 89, of Metropolis, at his Carbondale barber shop, Arnette's, on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2016. (Anna Spoerre | @annaspoerre)

Kent Mason, 71, cuts the hair of Mary Harvey, 89, of Metropolis, at his Carbondale barber shop, Arnette’s, on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2016. (Anna Spoerre | @annaspoerre)

Hughes said one of his fondest memories happened about a year ago when all four barbers were at their chairs and the shop was full.

“Mr. Kent [Mason] turned to all of us and just stopped us in the midst of cutting and he was like, ‘This is why I’ve been doing this for 51 years. This right here,’” Hughes said. “It hit me, ‘We’re doing something important here.’”

As for Mason, he said as long as he’s still able to stand all day, he will keep cutting hair.

“I tell people, I’ll be here when you leave and I’ll be here when you get back,” Mason said.

Campus editor Anna Spoerre can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @annaspoerre.

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