At Ray's Barber Shop, the owner is 82, a cut is $10 and fish tales are free

vbroadus@herald-leader.comApril 1, 2013 

There was plenty going on in the fall of 1957: Ford rolled out its Edsel to mixed reviews, and the Soviets launched their Sputnik satellite, sending the Free World into a tailspin. In Little Rock, Ark., a high school was integrated with the help of federal troops.

And at Ray's Barber Shop on Walton Avenue, a new guy — fresh out of barber school and starting his apprenticeship — was working at the middle chair of the three-chair shop. He was the boss's son-in-law, and the boss was helping him out by giving him a prime spot.

"In a multichair shop, it's awful hard for a new barber to get customers," says John Dacci, that new guy, now 82 and still cutting hair.

"The new barber is always on the last chair. My father-in-law put me in the middle and asked some of his customers to sit in my chair.

"Then if I messed up, he could fix them."

His father-in-law, Ray Tuttle, turned the business over to Dacci 44 years ago, but Dacci never thought to change the name of Ray's Barber Shop.

"He was on this corner for a long time. A lot of people still call me Ray," says Dacci. "I don't correct them. I answer to both."

Location, location, duration

These days, people driving by the barbershop between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday or Friday can see Dacci working on a customer or sitting in the chair, reading and waiting for one to drop in.

"You can't tell when you're going to be busy," he says. "You can have as many as 30 a day or as few as one."

Dacci says he has been at the same room for 56 years, but then he corrects himself, because he started out at 105 Walton but moved to 111 in 1960, when the barbershop and the beauty parlor swapped places. It's all the same building. Across the street is the Fayette County Public Schools' main office. For Dacci and many of his regulars, it will always be the old Henry Clay High School, their alma mater.

"I told John he needed to get some younger customers because of all the gray hair on the floor," Bill Combs says as he pays for a trim.

Dacci says seeing his customers is what keeps him wanting to work. He has cut one man's hair for 56 years.

What makes them keep coming back? "I just try to do what they ask me to do," Dacci says. "Sometimes I don't succeed."

"Will you apologize to your wife for me?" he asks as he brushes off a customer's collar. "That's about as pretty as I can make you."

The shop's name might not have changed, but the neighborhood has.

"There used to be nine diagonal parking spaces out front and no parking meters," Dacci says. "The old Henry Clay post office was around the corner." There were fewer cars and more foot traffic, which is how it happened that, as he stood in the doorway on a mild November afternoon almost 50 years ago, a passerby told him President John F. Kennedy had been shot. Everybody who was old enough remembers where they were when they heard the news, but how many still work in the same place?

Hardly wet behind the ears

When Dacci settled in at Ray's in 1957, he'd already served in the Air Force in Korea and held a couple of other jobs. He worked for well-known Kentucky businessman Garvice Kincaid, giving out small loans from an office in Paris. But giving out loans had a big downside: reeling them back in when people defaulted, and Dacci had no desire to be a repo man. So he enrolled in a barber school in Louisville.

What did he learn there? "Not a damn thing," Dacci says. Or at least nothing about cutting hair. "I learned about the different systems of the body" — the nervous system, the circulatory system. The curriculum was, apparently, left over from medieval days, when barbers were bloodletters.

"When I went to barber school, there was a barbershop in Louisville that carried leeches for black eyes," says Dacci.

It wasn't until he started working alongside Ray that he really learned the trade, cutting one head of hair after another, six days a week, from 7 in the morning to 6 at night. The waiting area held eight to 10 people. Customers would come in every two weeks, because the styles of the day — flat tops, short on the sides — required frequent trims.

"People used to be lined up. We did 50 percent of our business on Saturdays," he says.

"We did a lot of shaving then. I still shave around the ears with a straight razor. Still use scissors a lot," Dacci says. "Lately, I've gotten a lot of new customers that like the scissor cut."

The longer hairstyles that became popular in the 1960s cut into the barbering trade. Unless you were comedian George Gobel, the flattop was definitely out. A few years after taking over the shop in 1969, Dacci made it a one-chair, one-sink operation, and that's how it has stayed, with one modification: When he lost part of a leg in a ladder accident in 1990, a customer helped him attach a dentist's stool to the chair so he could sit while he worked. He's been his own boss all these years and nobody else's. "If I get tired, I close the door and go home."

A 'fishency' expert

A sign in the barbershop window warns of a "highly contagious fishing pox" on the premises. Dacci might have spent a lifetime as a barber, but his customers know he's a fisherman at heart. For more than 20 years, he and his wife, Marjorie, Ray's daughter, have lived on Herrington Lake, where they can commune with nature and their family while catching largemouth bass. This means Dacci has a 40-minute commute on workdays to open up on Walton at 7. When roads are bad, it can take twice as long. But he intends to keep coming "as long as my health holds up."

On a recent afternoon, Robert S. Penn Jr., age "90¾," is getting a trim. "John, it just gets thinner and thinner up there," he says as Dacci snips.

Penn is one of Dacci's newer customers. He's been coming only about 20 years.

"This is a good man here," Penn says. "He can tell the best fish stories you ever heard."

"Some of them are true," says Dacci.

When he started out in 1957, a haircut cost a dollar and a shave was 50 cents. Now the price is $10 each, but at Ray's Barber Shop, the fish stories — and on the right days, the fish — will always be free.

Vicky Broadus: (859) 231-3516.

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