Way down yonder in the Delta region of Southeast Arkansas that intersects to the east of Mississippi and North of Monroe Louisiana, is a prominent barber shop. When customers need a haircut or women need their hair styled with a perm, a wash and roll, or even a beautiful curl, it is not unusual for many customers, except locals, to drive up to 20 miles to step inside the wood-frame door of the single-level brick barber shop located at 123 Deloach Street in Eudora Arkansas.
Eudora is one of those small, rural, sleepy towns, that if you blink your eyes too many times while driving through you’ll never know you’ve been there.
Once inside the barber shop, customers are greeted by Eric West – one of the most well-known and highly respected barbers in the Delta area. A tall, cordial gentleman, who sports a flock of light-gray hair, West exudes a cheerful smile, when greeting customers – with southern hospitality words – “how ya doing? Have a seat. Make yourself at home.”
Individuals who just want to hang out and discuss sports, local gossip and politics, particularly the latest on president Donald Trump are also treated with same respect.
West takes pride in trimming, shaving and styling customers’ hair with a pair of Blessed Hands; blessed because West has been cutting hair for 50 long years, and long as God keeps this adored Barber alive, he has no plans to retire soon. “You want to give customers exactly what they want,” West says with a smile.
Among loyal customers, close friends and other Eudora citizens, West is popularly known as E.W. or E.W. West. West says that his motto for doing business all these years is simple, “I always strive to please my customers. Customers comes first.”
Celebrating 50 Years
On June 17, West celebrated 50 years in business as a professional Barber at his location on Deloach street where many people from different walks of life turned out for the celebration. Chicot County Judge Mack Ball and Eudora Mayor Stephen Tisdale also attended West’s 50th year anniversary.
As part of the anniversary, West showed much appreciation and love for the Eudora community and his customers by giving away free 50 haircuts over a period of several weeks, to adults, small children and teenagers.
“Mr West has served our community for half a century,” said Mayor Stephen Tisdale. Tisdale spoke glowingly of West’s indomitable spirit and hard work ethic.
“Longevity has its place. But more than just length of service, Mr. West has demonstrated the skills contained in his hands, and the friendships he made with customers and neighbors, with a quick handshake, and the encouragement he has given to all of us, with a timely pat on the back.”
“To put it simply,” Tisdale added, “West has been there for us.” Eric West also used his handiwork in a second job, between cutting hair, driving a bus for Eudora School District for 40 years!
According to Mike Woolridge of Arkansas State Board of Barbers, there are 2,723 licensed Barbers in Arkansas. Wooolridge said the oldest Barber listed is a man still cutting hair at 100 years old in Little Rock. That Barber got his license in 1937.
Becoming a Barber was predestined for West. “When I was very young, I worked consistently with my hands, either combing my mother’s hair or washing her feet,” West remembers.
Born in Oak Grove Louisiana, West’s father, Herman West, a hard-working farmer, relocated his wife, six boys and three girls to Eudora, off Highway 159 – during the early 1950s. Eric West’s father instilled in him the value of honesty, hard work and to treat people the way – “I would like to be treated,” West stated. “My father once said, ‘if you cannot make a quarter, make a dime.'”
“I’ve always lived my life according to moral values and hard work instilled in me by my parents.”
Hard work played a pivotal role in the life of E.W. West. As a teenager, besides working on the farm for his father where he picked cotton, sweet potatoes, and hauled hay to feed the family livestock, West earned fifty-cents for every 1000 chickens that he and other young boys captured, then put the chickens into separate crates, and loaded them onto a long-bed truck for a Louisana farmer.
“Each worker got fifty-cents once we caught and loaded 1000 chickens,” West recalled the laborious process. “Sometimes I didn’t get off until late at night and still had to make it to school the next day. I would be so tired and sleepy.”
Most important in West’s life is God, family, good health and serving customers. Blessed with four beautiful children – three girls and one son – West is proud to say one daughter in Texas is a Beautician and she also works as a missionary. Another daughter is a Flight Attendant for United Airlines. “My son and his wife work for University of Arkansas,” West says.
Throughout many years since Eric West first opened his Barber shop, customers immediately liked his down-to-earth, good-old boy, well-mannered personality. Many customers still travel miles from the Delta region in Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana to get their hair trimmed by a man who makes styling hair a pleasurable experience.
Rufus Dunbar of Lake Village, a customer for over 40 years doesn’t mind driving 17 miles to West’s shop. “Eric West has provided a good service for myself and others for many years. He’s a very good friend,” Dunbar said.
Another customer, Joseph B. B. Jackson of Lake Providence Louisiana drives 25 miles to get a touch of West’s skillful hands, said: “Family is not always based on good relationships but good friends are, and Eric West is not only a good Barber, but a good friend of mine that shares wisdom and advice for people.”
Always willing to lend a helping hand to others, West has helped many young Barbers and Beauticians to work under his license to get extra training needed to get their own license to start their own business.
“Over 30 -50 people have either worked at my shop or trained there to prepare to take the license exam,” West said during interview. “After my daughter Shay graduated from Dudley’s Costmetology College in North Carolina, she also worked in my shop for a few years.”
Wynona Gayfield of Oak Grove Louisiana reaped benefits from West’s passionate desire to help others beginning a career in the hair business. Gayfield met West at a seminar in Monroe Louisiana several years ago while still in beauty school. Advanced hair styling training enhanced West’s ability to style women’s hair with perms, wash and roll, and curls.
Realizing how important it would be to work as an apprentice beautician under a licensed Barber like West to get her own license later, Gayfield accepted West’s cordial offer to work as an apprentice in his barber shop.
“E.W. West opened the door for me to get valuable experience doing hair,” Gayfield fondly recalls.
Under West’s guidance, Gayfield worked long hours in the Barber shop specializing in curls and waves. “I gave Wynona a chance to prosper in the business just like others gave me a chance,” West said recently. Gayfield later got her license, and opened a beauty salon that she ran for 22 years in Oak Grove Louisiana.
Moline Pulliam of Eudora, a current employee with Double Quik corporation, a chain of convenience stores, met West while previously employed as a low-paid kitchen worker at G.C. Johns School in Eudora during the late 1970s. Though Ms Pulliam was unable to pay West to style her hair, she now says, “Mr. West took time to untangle some bad ends in my hair and fixed it so it would look decent. And I had no money until payday. But he fixed my hair anyway,” Pulliam recalls.
West now says over the years he’d been in business that he gave hair service to many people who didn’t have money. “I have compassion for people who may not always have money. I’ve been without money myself.”
A Career That Almost Didn’t Happen
What many Eudorans don’t know about the man with the “Blessed Hands” is that Eric West almost never became a licensed Barber. He retells the story with deep emotion.
“Before I graduated from East High School in Eudora in 1966, a teacher named Alberta Williams announced she had two scholarships to give away to students interested to attend Barber College.” West had mentioned on previous occasions that he wanted to become a Barber. West admits his school grades were dismal at best – a c-average. “So when the teacher asked students who wanted to attend Barber School; three of us held up our hands.”
Desperately hoping the teacher would pick him for a scholarship, she broke West’s heart by giving both scholarships to two college material students. “I felt so sad; so let down,” West said as he recalled that dark moment. His parents noticed the depth of their son’s sadness. “I felt the teacher gave scholarships to the students she picked because they were smarter than I was; they made straight A’s and B’s. My grades were lower.”
West said neither student really “wanted to attend Barber School.”
Facing a bleak future and unable to attend college with a c-average, the thought of leaving Eudora to travel by bus to either Chicago, California or Detroit to find work disturbed West, because his heart’s desire was to stay in Eudora and start a Barber Business. While preparing to journey up north a stroke of fate happened. West vividly recalled the moment.
“Allen Turner was given a scholarship by our teacher to attend Barber College, but apparently he had other career plans, and Turner knew how much I wanted to become a Barber, so he gave his scholarship worth $100 dollars to me!”
“My classmate saved the day,” West chuckled. “The $100 scholarship paid my tuition and my mother, Mrs. L. West gave me $36 for a barber’s kit.”
West immediately capitalized on this golden opportunity. A Greyhound Bus took him to Little Rock, Arkansas, where he rented a room at a friend’s house. He attended Little Rock Barber College during the day, walking 19 blocks to get there, for nine long months, while working nights at the Pepsi Cola plant.
Saving $25 weekly, West purchased a 1954 Ford for $300, and subsequently he worked a second job at a restaurant, graduating from Barber College on April 15th 1967.
Starting The Business
E. W. West returned to Eudora a proud man. He open a barbershop business by renting a small back room attached to Clarence Bethune Funeral Home for $5 a week, where he cut hair for seventy-five cents per head, until other local Barbers agreed to increase the cost to one dollar.
“It goes to show,” West lamented, “that people, like my teacher, never know, who they may overlook.”
After graduation, West hit the ground running. “The room that I started off in the funeral home was very small, and I had to work under extremely uncomfortable conditions during summer and winter months due to less insulation within the building,” West said.
“Sometimes on weekends I cut hair until 2:00am, trying to make a living; trying to please customers.” Eventually West met his future wife Claudia while giving her a hairline. Romance blossomed after the couple enjoyed a pleasant date. They married in 1970, and subsequently had three children. West had another daughter prior to marriage.
When 1978 rolled around, West finally had enough financial clout to move on up to higher ground leaving behind the small, cramped space attached to Bethune funeral home. West hired contractor Sam Sanders to build the brick-style building where the West Barber shop resides today.
Inspired by Beautician Deliah Thomas, West’s wife, Claudia, became a licensed Beautician in 1986. Working together as a team, the couple ran West’s Barber shop like a well-oiled machine, with Claudia styling women’s hair, and West alternating between cutting men’s hair and doing curls for women.
Prior to Claudia West obtaining her license, the Beautician Deliah Thomas encouraged E. W. West to first allow his wife Claudia to play a part in running the business. According to West, “Ms. Thomas explained how other business owners in Eudora had their wives helping them.”
“Nobody can take care of your business like your wife can,” West recalled Ms. Thomas saying.
“My wife became a very important asset to my business once I moved into my new building. She worked hard.”
Time For A Critical Decision
West suffered a terrible blow when his loving father Herman West died in 1981. West grieved tremendously, and at this juncture, he hit a stumbling block. Even relatives tried to get him to leave Eudora to earn more money in the hair business. “My brothers in Las Vegas tried to get me – to move to Vegas after our father died. They said I’ll make more money as a Barber in Vegas.” West further said, “I gave the idea serious thought; my father died; I was at a low point in life. I loved my mother and father so much.”
Facing a tough crossroad decision, West made a firm decision.
“I loved the people in Eudora community, and all my customers so much, that I decided not to go,” West recalled that contentious moment.
West credits people like W.P. Weston, Freddie Griggs, Deliah Thomas and his first landlord Mr Bethune – all who provided West mentorship and encouragement that kept him focused on building a business, treating people fair, and staying the course with relentless focus to achieve his goals.
West further gives appreciation to deceased Mrs Mary Miles, a former local cafe owner who often sent home cooked meals to West’s shop whenever he worked late at night cutting customer’s hair in the rear of Bethune’s funeral home. A lover of desserts, West favorite is banana pudding.
“I thank God for all the people who I’ve named that gave me an opportunity to succeed.”
As a grateful community servant, West serves Chicot County that includes Eudora, in other capacities. He is the treasurer of Hill Cemetery also in Eudora and serves on the Chicot County Board of Equalization, composed of local citizens whose job to oversee and make sure county government imposes fairness for citizens when taxes are imposed upon citizens.
West sums up his successful journey. “I hope younger people who read this story become inspired with my journey and use my experience to achieve their own goals. And hopefully older people appreciate our sacrifices to make a better future for ourselves and to keep passing down our life history to other generations.”