Ira Pyles lives his childhood dream, one ‘airplane’ at a time


Ira Pyles remembers his first haircut.

“The guy told me he was running an airplane

over my head, and I said I was going to take

that airplane home,” he says with a chuckle.

On a recent day, he was running an “airplane”

over the head of a boy in his own chair.

“I’ve always had a hankering to be a barber,

ever since I was a kid.”

It’s the peak of spring, and Ira’s barbershop,

on Newport’s Monmouth  Street, blossoms

with the fragrance of thick shaving cream, of

Clubman talc and aftershave. Ira’s is your

garden-variety barbershop, a little old fashioned.

“There’s been a barber shop here for 80 years,”

Ira says. “There used to be all kinds of shops.”

Now he can count the shops around his almost on one hand.

Ira has been in business here since 1968 — and with some of the same customers. Once they stumble onto the shop, they just don’t want to go anywhere else, patrons say.

“We’ve got people come from Falmouth, Florence, Delhi, Price Hill — all over,” Ira says. And, he boasts, a truck driver from Pennsylvania stops in every time he passes through.

A furniture store across the street has been in business 30 years. If it’s late in the day when you’re getting a haircut, you can watch the owner drive away in a new Cadillac.

Around the corner from the barbershop, a fancy restaurant called The Syndicate posts valets in period suits to park cars.

Yet outside the barbershop, a candy can pole still spins. It says, “You’ve come to the right place.” Ira always greets the new customer walking through the door, then returns to conversation with the customer in the chair.

Besides the two barber chairs — Ira’s son Chris, 44, also works an airplane — there are 10 seats for customers, a couple of small tables for the newspapers and sports magazines, a stove, and a big red Coke machine. Ira says it dates back to the 1940s. These days you just take a soft drink out of it and pay the barber.

A few weeks ago, the talk centered on the NCAA championship games. The Wildcat clock on the wall, with its blue cat face and gold hands, said it was time again for Kentucky to win it all.

Though the headline news may still be the talk of the barbershop, customers don’t talk much politics anymore, Ira says.

The boy’s haircut is finished. His hair is added to the growing mound circling the barber chair till it looks like wood shavings at the foot of a tree.

The cut looks like, well, a bowl.

“They used to get in the chair and say, ‘Whatever you do, don’t bowl me,’” Ira says. “Now they say, ‘Bowl me.’”

But the shop’s repertoire of cuts is extensive. The Clubman aftershave keeps company with jars of gel and mousse.

“Chris is always cutting designs in kids’ hair — and men’s too,” Ira says. Chris does the designs freehand, after looking at a drawing.

But the basic shave and haircut remains Ira’s staple. A black leather strap hands from the barber chair, and the straight razor sings as it moves across.

“Some people think that the shave is still part of the haircut,” Ira says.

The father-son team plans for Chris to take over the business when Ira retires. And a successful business it is.

Ira’s first partner in the shop, Marv Lewis, was in business there 30 years and raised five children on its proceeds.

“I’ve got four,” Ira says. “And I’ve sent three to college and Chris to barber school.”

But there’s another measure of success. Though the shop doesn't open officially until 7 a.m., customers are waiting at the door when Ira comes in. “I go by here at 6:30 and there’s people waiting,” he says.

And because the shop doesn’t take appointments, customers are likely to wait no matter what time they come in.

But doesn’t it get old, Ira is often asked, doing this same thing every day?

“What’s scary,” he tells them, “is when you saw a kid coming in on all fours, and now he’s bringing his kid in. But every head of hair is different, even twins.

“I used to work in a factory,” Ira says, “and I hated getting up and going in. I enjoy meeting people, the conversation. This is something I enjoy doing.”

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