DionRabouin.com (sort of)

Family hoping to save city’s oldest black barbershop

Posted in Articles by dionrabouin on October 2, 2012

By Dion Rabouin

(Written for The Atlanta Voice)

ATLANTA – When 85-year-old John Harris decided he was hanging up his clippers at the city’s oldest black barbershop last week, many observers saw it as the end of an era.

But the historic run at his Silver Moon Barbershop may not be over just yet.

Three of Harris’s children are fighting to keep the barbershop and its proud tradition alive and flourishing in the Sweet Auburn historic district.

Harris’ daughter, Karen Harris Lewis, and two of his sons, Kevin and Kenneth Harris, are working to reopen the shop – and revive the tradition -– immediately. They are working with building management to have the barbershop’s lease transferred into Lewis’s name, and hope to reopen the doors to the public as soon as possible.

Kevin Harris said the reason to save the shop is simple: history.

“The name has been around for over 100 years and the way they’ve restructured Atlanta and dispersed all the public housing around there, it’s one of the rare spots on Auburn Avenue that’s still in its original stage,” Harris said.

“The history of Auburn Avenue was obliterated by the so-called renewal of it, because a lot of history was taken down,” he added. “A lot of buildings were destroyed and revamped and that didn’t need to be done.”

The shop has been open since 1904 and John Harris – or Mr. Harris as he’s known to all clients under 70 – was the face of the barbershop for years, often serving as greeter, city concierge and barber to patrons. He describes himself as a Georgia native who took up cutting hair professionally when he returned from service in the army.

Since Harris took over, moving from a nearby barbershop in the 1970s, he has been the barber of choice for several dignitaries and celebrities, including Mayor Maynard Jackson, boxing legend Muhammad Ali and Godfather of Soul James Brown.

When asked last week why he was leaving, Harris said he believed it was time to go.

“Things just go on,” he said. “You just get tired after a while, you know, that’s it. I’m not remorseful. I kind of feel relaxed.”

The barbershop has been more than a community staple on Auburn Avenue to the Harris family – it has been their legacy, family members say. In addition to John Harris’s three children, his grandson, Marquii Lewis, was a barber there until the barbershop closed its doors Friday. Lewis said he couldn’t imagine working anywhere else.

“If I’m not at that barber shop then I might stop cutting altogether,” Lewis said. “My whole motivation is a family-owned business, something that’s been going on in my family for generations and generations and that’s what drove me to continue cutting.”

Business owners near Silver Moon, meanwhile, hope Harris’ children are successful in keeping the legacy alive.

“Mr. Harris, he was like a father for everybody,” said Menbi Haile, who has owned the convenience store next door to Silver Moon for four years. “He’s been here so long and he’s so well known that he would speak up for everybody [in the neighborhood].

“Everybody’s going to miss them,” Haile said. “I pray they come back.”


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