If Parris Island closes, local barbers lose 'high-and-tight' business, and it would be 'devastating'

By KATE HIDALGO BELLOWS | The Island Packet | Published: September 30, 2020

BEAUFORT, S.C. (Tribune News Service) — Walk into a barbershop in Beaufort on a Saturday or Sunday, and you will be in good company, said John Reaves, former owner of Great Clips at Cross Creek Plaza.

The weekend, Reaves said, is when most of the Marines at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island get their weekly haircut, in preparation for a strict inspection Monday.

They sit for 15 minutes while a barber takes a 0.5mm or 1mm clipper to their head and cuts them a “high and tight” — a short style with shaved sides and longer hair on top.

“If they don’t have it correctly, they have to pay a fine, run a lap, do push-ups,” Reaves said.

According to the U.S. Department of Defense, 2,200 Marine Corps and Navy personnel are assigned to Parris Island.

That means 2,200 heads that need to be shaved, cut, combed and styled to meet the stringent standards of the Marine Corps. The 19,000 Marine recruits who train there each year generally get their haircuts on base, but the Marines who work there, seeking to avoid the long lines during the weekends, often flee for a shorter wait time off base.

The Marine Corps is considering closing its recruit depots on Parris Island and in San Diego to open a new, co-educational base and meet a congressional mandate requiring the bases to support co-educational training within five years.

As they learned of the news late last week, barbers in Beaufort and Port Royal found themselves staring down the potential loss of a large portion of their customer base, and, on a deeper level, a fixture that is key to their identity as Lowcountry barbers.

Sandra Campeau, who owns Great Clips in Beaufort, said it would be difficult to quantify the loss of the recruit depot because the military and business communities are so closely intertwined.

“It’s not just the Marines at the training base — it’s the other businesses in the area that support them and businesses that support those businesses,” she said. “The training base closing could have a domino effect.”

Data demonstrate the profound impact Parris Island has on the Lowcountry’s economy, particularly north of the Broad. A 2017 report prepared for the South Carolina Military Base Task Force showed that the base has a $601.5 million economic impact on Beaufort, Jasper, Hampton and Colleton counties, with millions of dollars flowing from the base into local industries. The chamber of commerce reports that more than 6,100 people are employed because of Parris Island.

The bond between barbers and Marines is a social one, too, Campeau said.

“When we cut their hair, we get to know about their victories and struggles,” she said. “Some we only see for a short time, and others we see for years, learning about their families and friends. We go through marriages, divorces, first haircut, births and deployments with them.”

Bill Rickett, manager of Barbers of the Lowcountry in Beaufort, said such a closure would have a tremendous impact on his shop, which opened only two months ago.

“Just like anybody,” Rickett said, “all the barbershops around here depend heavily upon the two bases” — Parris Island and Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. “The Marines are always looking for places to get their haircuts that are off base.”

Henrietta West, who owns Fresh Cuts Unlimited in Beaufort, said half of her business is military personnel, as Parris Island is only five minutes away. Her shop and several others are on Parris Island Gateway, from which the road to Parris Island, Malecon Drive, originates.

At Harvey’s Barbershop on Bay Street in Beaufort, owners Ray and John Harvey have been cutting Marines’ hair for 57 years. The news was horrible. “I’d hate like the devil to see that happen,” Ray Harvey said. “As long as I’ve been alive, they have been here.”

Even barbers who have retired their smocks and scissors say they worry about the effect a closure could have on the industry in Beaufort and Port Royal.

Reaves estimated that 25% of Beaufort barbershops’ business is military clientele.

“We would support a lot of things on the base,” Reaves said. “If they did something for a Marine run, if they did something for kids … We were part of that community. ... By not having that, combined with all the other things that are geared towards the Marines with Parris Island and the MCAS, it would really devastate the community.”

©2020 The Island Packet (Hilton Head, S.C.)
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