Sylvester White knows Hill Street. Hill Street knows Sylvester White.
“I was raised on Hill Street, started dating my wife on Hill Street, and now we work together as a family on Hill Street,” White said.
Last month, White and his wife, Rogerline, marked 51 years of marriage. In a few months, the couple will celebrate their 50th anniversary as business partners and owners of White’s Barber and Beauty Shop.
White’s is a Southeast Raleigh cultural icon – a place where business, community and family are synonyms, where a good cut is the order of the day and good counsel is free. And it’s a place where God is at the center of it all.
“It’s a great accomplishment,” White said. “I give credit to God for sustaining us over the years, for being able to maintain a good reputation in the community and serve as a beacon of light for other young entrepreneurs, or anybody else.
“We’re a team, trying to serve the community in a holistic way, from a business perspective.”
White, a 1958 graduate of J.W. Ligon High School in Raleigh, finished Harris Barber College in 1959. Four years later, he was drafted into the Army, where he stayed two years and then settled in Massachusetts as a barber.
White’s father, who owned College Park Groceries, urged him to return home and open his own shop in a plaza being built at Hill Street and Oakwood Avenue.
“Without a vision, people perish,” said White, the oldest of 10 children. “You have to have a vision and goals set for yourself, and work towards those things.”
Over the decades, White’s Barber and Beauty Shop has opened up space in the building to meet the community’s needs, including an after-school homework center and a Bible group that stayed 15 years.
The couple also offers informal counseling sessions, helping clients with everything from marriage to finances.
“I even married a couple right here in the shop,” said White, a pastor at Cedar Rock Missionary Baptist Church in Franklin County. “We’ve been able to do some unique things.”
The reason Kenneth Lewis has trusted White with his hair cuts for eight years is simple: White asked him how he wanted his hair cut. Lewis told him. White cut it as he asked, precisely.
“To me, that’s a master at his craft,” Lewis said. “So once I went to Mr. White, I continued to go. I’m satisfied.”
Raymond Harrell found White’s in 1974, when he was a freshman at St. Augustine’s University. Now his son and grandsons also go there.
“A lot of things that go on in other barber shops don’t happen at White’s,” said Harrell, a retired firefighter who now owns a landscape business. “It is a model – to be honest, have integrity and take a stand, especially as a Christian, and operate your business based on those principles and be very successful in doing so for so many years.”
Rogerline White, who earned a master’s degree in Christian education from Shaw University in May, said communication and cooperation are key.
“We all have a part in this,” she said. “And it’s awesome when you can come together and stay together as family. That’s the longevity of White’s Barber and Beauty Shop.”
The couple’s daughter, Ulanda Caroway, also works at the shop. She said she’s honored to work with her parents, watch clients stay and grow, and cheer on barbers who have contributed to the success of White’s while branching out on their own.
“They are all part of the family,” Caroway said.
The Whites hope their grandchildren – Rebekah, 25, and Stacy Jr., 23, both college graduates – keep White’s as part of the family.
“We plan to be here for a while,” Rogerline White said. “We hope they’ll see it’s worth carrying on.”