Meet Our Friends: Hugh Campbell

Our September Short Run Shirting photo shoot took place at the historic John Marshall Barber Shop in Richmond, VA. First opening its doors in 1929, the barber shop has recently been renovated to uncover the timeless interior design of the 20s. We had the opportunity to talk with Hugh Campbell who has owned the shop since 1981, but has been part of The John Marshall family since 1967. In between the friendly, “Hey, neighbor,” and “Have a wonderful afternoon,” to each person walking into and out of its doors, we learned just how much history the little shop on E. Franklin St. holds.

How have you seen the atmosphere of the John Marshall Barber Shop change over the years?

The only thing that has changed is the teams- and the politics. We’ve taken care of all of the governors since 1929. That was one of the reasons I wanted to save this old floor. This is the original floor from ’29, and the folks that have been through here- Bruce Willis, Elvis, Liz Taylor, Joe Lewis, Cab Calloway… the list is a mile long.

How has the foot traffic changed since the hotel has been renovated into apartments?

It was really a busy hotel with 500 rooms. Every night there was a big event, so you had people staying here that would come have their service at the barber shop. Now it’s better because there are about 238 apartments, most of which are spoken for which is great. And it’s nice to see the same people come and go, walking their dogs.

Richmond seems to be undergoing a period of revival, would you agree?

It really is. I saw my business shrink 33-34% 6 years ago, and I knew I had to get through all of that to get to where I am now- watching my little business grow again. I was determined to bring it back and make it special again. If you go through the ballrooms- The Virginia Room, The Marshall Room- the renovations are well worth the wait. It was a difficult project to put together for a lot of reasons. But I’m home! All is forgiven for sure.

What do you enjoy most about owning the barber shop?

I really enjoy the folks that sit in the chair. They are your friends- from your Republicans, your Democrats, you have them from all over- and they become your buddies as much as your clients. We make appointments, that way we don’t have to rush. We can spend some quality time and enjoy the folks.

You can get a haircut anywhere nowadays, why do people come to your barber shop?

My industry has become an assembly line. You watch what we do- the razor cut, the Sebring cut- it takes a few more moments, but it’s a better cut. It’s time served more than just running the clippers. We’ve tried to keep that, and people notice the little things. Certain things you will not find other places- shaving around the ears with a lather and warm towel on the face. That’s an old tradition that we carry on that you’re not going to find anywhere else.

Has the renovation restored the John Marshall back to its original aesthetic of the 1920s?

This is all of the original stuff from ’29, and it was covered up behind a wall. My boss, Mr. Hicks, used to tell me all the time, “Don’t let ‘em destroy this stuff.” We were able to hold onto it and restore it back. These are the original mirrors, porcelain at the bottom, marble counter tops- you’re looking at 1929. It’s a businessman’s shop, we didn’t want glitzy. We wanted to keep the tin ceilings, the fans, and the floor… we tried to keep that period look as much as possible. You have to go a long way to find an ashtray in the arm of a chair. That’s old school- it adds to the charm.

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