Virginia Barber looks back on over 60 years of haircuts
After 63 years, Davenport has stepped away from the chair at his Ocean View boutique, and he’s spent what time he has left giving final haircuts — and goodbye hugs — to customers he thinks look alike. more to “nephews” whom he has seen grow up, become successful, start their own families and grow old.
Davenport, 82, said in the case of one family, “six generations have sat in my chair.” He named the third great-grandfather to the youngest boy as he counted, his fingers twisted from decades of holding scissors. A picture frame with photos from each generation is placed in a display case so he never misses a name when telling the story.
Baker recounted how his father brought him to Davenport as a child, and he brought his son in the years that followed.
“I used to have the flat top but I’m letting it go a little longer now that I’m slimming down like most of us are today,” Baker, now 54, said. He didn’t even have to say what style he wanted – he sat in the chair and Davenport got to work.
Davenport began his career in 1959 after graduating from Twillie’s Barber School in Norfolk. He was only 18 at the time and a haircut cost $1.25. The faded yellow diploma still hangs on the wall of his post.
“I come from the farms,” Davenport said of growing up in North Carolina. “It was hot on the farm in the summer and cold in the winter. My father told me that barbershops are always cool in the summer and warm in the winter. I said it sounded like a job to me.
Davenport initially worked in hair salons in the Riverview, Norview and Lakeland Shopping Center areas of Norfolk, working to grow her customer base. It took him six years to save enough money to buy his own store in Ocean View in April 1965, which was originally in Johnson’s Square before moving to 9627 Granby Street, a strip mall built by WF “Red “Thornton Jr. right next to Ocean. See Avenue in 1980.
“Red was a former client of mine and a good friend. He called me one day and told me to pick my spot,” Davenport said. While he said he wanted the full stop, Thornton tucked the barbershop into the middle of the strip.
Thornton’s son, Billy, is among those who have come to Davenport for decades. He recently stopped by the shop after lunch to buy his latest “MD haircut.
“Dad said to make sure Mr. Davenport had everything he needed,” Billy Thornton said. “Ocean View is a good old fashioned community and Mr. Davenport is part of the glue that holds it together.”
Hubert Davenport gets a haircut at his Ocean View boutique in 2010. (Virginia-Pilot File Photo) (Preston Gannaway)
In his more than six decades, Davenport says he’s “seen it all” when it comes to hairstyles.
“When I started we had what you call the ‘boogie woogie flat top’ – which had the sides long. We had the usual business cut and the kids cuts were always close on the sides,” Davenport said “And then the Beatles came along.”
Young adults began to wear their hair longer, for which Davenport says he went back to school to brush up on his techniques. Then came the “Willoughby sting” – known to most today as the “rat tail”.
“The boy wanted his hair cut short, but he wanted to leave something in the back. I called it the ‘Willoughby sting’ – like the old sting ray tail,” Davenport said.
The interior of the Davenport Barbershop also looks like a museum. Photographs of military ships, paintings by local artists, and baseballs signed by barber-sponsored youth teams line the walls and shelves — most donated to him by patrons over the years. Among the photos is one of a Navy admiral shaking hands with President George W. Bush. At the bottom reads: ‘Handshake by George W. Bush; haircut by Davenport’s Barber Shop.”
“I cut the Admiral’s hair, but the president didn’t have time for me to cut his hair,” Davenport said with a laugh.
Over the years, Davenport cut hair wherever customers might meet him, often closing his shop early to make house calls.
“They were there for me, coming to my store and helping me make a living, so I was there for them when they needed me,” Davenport said.
One of those clients was Kurt Hampe, who climbed into Davenport’s chair last week. Like most customers, Davenport has been cutting the Hampe family’s hair for over 30 years. In 1990, when Hampe was diagnosed with cancer, Davenport visited him in the hospital, taking his kit to give Hampe a new haircut.
“You’ll never find another MD,” said Gail Hampe, Kurt’s wife. “It was a real touch-and-go situation for a while. I had walked in and spoken with MD and he was discharged into hospital after that.
While cutting Kurt’s hair, Davenport asked about the couple’s two sons. The Hampe boys, who are 25 and 30, have had their hair cut by Davenport since they were kids.
Richard Richmond waited almost an hour for his last haircut with Davenport. When he finally jumped into the bright red chair, he said “MD, I didn’t know you were retiring. Who’s gonna cut my hair now?
Now in his thirties, Richmond has been coming to Davenport since he was 5 years old.
“I remember he had a toy box that looked like a soccer ball,” Richmond said, before Davenport pointed to the same toy box, which was moved to another corner of the store.
“Yeah, you used to play in there when you were a kid. Some of the same toys you played with are probably still there,” Davenport said with a laugh.
Before Richmond left, Davenport gave him a hug and told him how proud he was of himself.
While Davenport retires, the store will not close entirely. A new barber will take over the Davenport station. After receiving several offers, Davenport decided to sell the business to Dante Abitria, owner of Springs Barber Shop on Diamond Springs Road in Virginia Beach.
“I chose the one who wanted to continue as a neighborhood barber. I could have sold to a faller who wanted to change the interior and drive up the prices, but I didn’t want to do that. The good Lord sent me the good – that’s why I sold,” Davenport said.
While several long-time Davenport clients said they held out hope that he would only retire briefly, Davenport said “it’s about time.”
“The matter is up to the good Lord and he has just blessed me for it. He let me work for a long time – 63 years,” Davenport said. “But I’ve stood on those legs so long they’re crying. My mind says no, but my old body says yes.