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Pikeville barber celebrates 50 years of cutting up

PIKEVILLE — Friends and customers drop in all day, even though Tweety Chaney's business supposedly is appointment only.

"Here comes another one," he says as he gazes through the picture window of his barbershop on Town Mountain Road just outside downtown Pikeville.

"I don't have time for this!" he quips. But he squeezes them in anyway.

Walter "Tweety" Chaney hates to disappoint anyone, and he's always been that way. Many of the men of Pike County know this about Chaney, 68, who entered his 50th year of barbering this summer.

The wood-paneled walls of Town and Country barbershop have stood for decades of stories and years of off-color jokes.

It's a place where laughter spills out its door into the parking lot, as customers tease Tweety and one another. The pages of the day's newspaper crinkle and snap as a waiting customer announces some abominable thing a columnist is writing about. The whir of the hair dryer and splash of water in the shampoo sink almost — but don't quite — drown out the conversation.

The buzz of the clippers is accompanied by the buzz of the day. Did you hear the Cadillac dealership is closing? Do you know what they're building out by the Wendy's, and can you believe how much rock they dug out of that hillside?

Most of the men are silver-haired now. Their discussions are punctuated with questions about so-and-so's health, and memories of friends who have passed.

You get the sense that many of the conversations have been had before.

They're still telling the story of the $10.2 million horse Bennett Johnson's brother sold in Lexington decades ago, back when that price was unheard of.

Tweety tells of how Doc Hambley, mayor in the 1970s and '80s, showed up at 7 a.m. for a shave every time he was gearing up for another grant to build the Pikeville cut-through, one of the world's largest earth-moving projects at the time.

The silver-haired men all laughed at Hambley's dreams then, Tweety says. But they're all in awe of his perseverance now — the project to reroute the river and the railroad changed the face of Pikeville forever.

On the wall is an autographed photo of PGA golfer and Pikeville son Robert Damron. Tweety gave Damron his first haircut way back when.

Tweety apparently is the only barber in town who opens up at 5 a.m. He does it so shift workers from the hospital or the mines can come by before or after work.

He has cut or shaved Chamber of Commerce men, politicians, bankers, lawyers, doctors.

He looks around at the handful of rag-tag customers in his shop on a given day and calls them all "pillars of the community." He's half joking.

"They're all wonderful people," he says. "I just try to take care of them."

After graduating from high school in 1959, Tweety went straight to Tri-City Barber College in Louisville. He can't figure out why he chose barbering — his mother worked for Southern Bell, and his father was a mechanic.

If it hadn't been barbering, he said, he would have stuck with his summer job laying blacktop on the quickly growing network of paved roads in Pike County. One of his only regrets is that his job keeps him inside all day.

The people he meets make it worthwhile, though. And the stories.

They keep coming back. He has customers now who drive from as far away as Mount Sterling.

One man, Bob Evans, was Tweety's first haircut in 1960, back when the price was $1.25. Now it's $12. Evans was in the shop last week for another of what must now be hundreds of haircuts.

Tweety's record with the state Board of Barbering is sterling — 47 license renewals, always on time, and including little thank-you notes to the board for assistance, administrator Karen Greenwell said. The board isn't able to track how many barbers have reached the 50-year mark, she said, but it can't be many.

"That shows a level of dedication that you don't see from everybody," she said.

Tweety is modest. He brushes off the fanfare of 50 years. He just wants to treat people right and keep busy.

"I believe this: I believe every business that you walk into has got a personality. Have you noticed that? ... And the people who go there, are generally the same type of people."