When Roddrick Henry thinks about the customers he’s established relationships with over the years as the owner of Alpha Barber Shop off Main Street in downtown Garner, he gets choked up.
His eyes water. Then he pauses to gather himself. And he wipes his eyes with a paper towel to keep the tears from streaming down his face. He said the best part of owning a barber shop is coming to work every morning and seeing his customers.
“I’m going to miss that,” Henry said, his voice cracking. “I’ve been here more than I’ve been at home.”
After 29 years, Henry, 59, will close his shop on July 23 and move to Florida. He said he wants to be closer to his mom as she gets older. He says he’ll open a barbershop and work as a chef in Orlando.
But Garner, Henry said, will always be where his heart is. Henry has children and grandchildren now, but his customers are like family too.
Oftentimes his customers call to check on him. Whether it’s about his health – Henry is a diabetic – or about his mom.
A train goes by and blows its horn as it passes downtown.
“I’m going to miss that too,” he said.
Henry, a soft-spoken man who sports a gray beard, started his business in Garner in 1987. He and a co-worker, Grady Sanders, were working at a barbershop in Raleigh when they had an idea. There weren’t any black-owned barbershops in Garner, and they wanted to serve the community, Henry said.
Henry said he still remembers the first day he opened. It was a cold day in November of 1987. But the community was there to support him.
He and Sanders passed out fliers in the community to let people know that they were opening on Main Street. He said they had a pretty good showing that first day.
“After that it’s been up hill ever since,” Henry said.
Henry said owning the barbershop has had its challenges. As Garner grew, more barbershops started to pop up. Some weeks were better than others. But Henry said he continued to have support from the community.
He’s cut the heads of professional athletes, like David West, Chris Culliver and Brandon Banks.
Inside the barbershop jazz music plays on the radio, and “Star Trek” plays on a small TV in the corner on mute. Customers carry on conversations about current events, such as the police-involved shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana, as well as the Dallas shooting of 12 police officers.
They talk about the need for unity.
“People can come here to socialize,” Henry said. “To be free. People feel comfortable when they come to the barbershop. But everybody has respect for everybody.”
Allan Johnson is one of those customers who feels comfortable when he comes. He’s been coming to the barbershop for about 20 years. He didn’t need a haircut Friday. He came to hang out.
Johnson likes to crack jokes on Henry. When asked what he likes best about the barbershop, he jokingly says “I don’t know.”
Another man in the shop hears and yells out, “Come on now. You know we got it going on down here.”
Another longtime customer, Charles Dobbin, 84, said the community will miss Henry.
“I want to go where I’m wanted and appreciated and that’s what I look for in a barbershop,” Dobbin said.
He said he found that in Alpha Barber Shop.
“I’ve been in Wake County since the ’50s and he’s only the second person to cut my hair,” said Dobbin, who has been getting his haircut at the shop since it first opened.
Effie Woodard, a Garner resident who was there to get her hair cut, said the same. She says she hasn’t quite figured out who her next barber will be.
“(Henry) told me about somebody, but I’ve got to check that person out,” Woodard said. “Because my head is my glory. And if you want a whole lot of stuff from me, don’t get up there and mess with my hair.”
“I don’t trust everybody,” she continued, laughing. “I told him I might have to let it grow out.”
Henry said he still has children who live in the area, so he’ll come back to visit his customers.
He said he’ll call them in advance to make sure they are at home.
Henry paused to think about what July 23 will be like for him.
“It’s going to be sad,” he said, as he finished cutting a customer’s hair. “It’s going to be sad.”