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Whelchel Barbershop still practices business basics
Gainesville shop sticks with tradition after 45 years in operation
Whelchel Barbershop co-owner Robert Columbo cuts Jimmy Kemp’s hair. Kemp got his first haircut at Whelchel when he was 3 years old. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Whelchel Barbershop

Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; 7 a.m. to noon Saturdays; closed Tuesdays and Sundays

Where: 3563 Thompson Bridge Road, Gainesville

More info: 770-536-4939 or

For Jimmy Kemp, Whelchel Barbershop is more than a place for a haircut.

Kemp had his first haircut at Whelchel when he was 3 years old, when his father brought him in to get his curls cut off, much to his mother’s dismay.

Keeping with tradition, Kemp took his sons there for their first haircuts, making them the third generation to frequent Whelchel.

“It’s like your typical hometown barbershop,” he said. “All our family gets their haircuts here.

“Other than a good barbershop, it’s a good atmosphere. You have a good time talking, cutting up.”

While he may have gone to other places once or twice, the familiarity and consistency of quality service keeps Kent coming back to the barbershop that first opened in 1970.

“We’ll come as long as they’re open,” Kemp said.

Buddy Whelchel opened Whelchel Barbershop, apparently following in the family tradition. Buddy Whelchel’s father, Harold, opened the first barber school in Gainesville.

Since 1970, the barbershop has seen Gainesville grow, but some things have remained the same inside the barbershop at 3564 Thompson Bridge Road.

“It is the steadiness and longevity of the barbers that have been here,” barber Robert Columbo said. “Once customers come here they know what to expect, and we try to keep it the same. It’s traditional. It’s just a stable, reliable business that’s been in the area for 45 years. As far as plans go, if it works, don’t fix it.”

In the past 45 years, not much has changed. Columbo said other than a few necessary upgrades and some unavoidable maintenance, Whelchel Barbershop offers the same quality service from the trained barbers today as when it opened.

“It’s an old-fashioned barbershop and there’s not many around anymore, especially in Gainesville,” said Columbo, who moved to the area eight years ago before finding Whelchel. “It’s real traditional. Everybody knows each other.”

Columbo explained some customers see others whom they have not seen in 10 or 20 years.

“It is a connecting point,” he said.

Unlike many salons today, Whelchel offers barbers trained for precision cuts ranging from tight fades and flat tops to current trends.

“We do everything from flat tops to the latest style cuts,” Columbo said.

He said one of the major differences between a barbershop and salon is most salons hire cosmetologists specializing in various hair treatments, nail techniques and skincare that can do closer cuts. Whelchel Barbershop keeps it traditional with haircuts, which appears to appeal to customers and barbers alike.

“I like that they’re old fashioned, old-school barbershops,” said Kathy Wagner, who has been cutting hair for 35 years. “You don’t have the smells of color and perms and all that kind of stuff.”

Wagner, who has a barber license, explained most women are trained cosmetologists. “And they’ll work in a barbershop and learn how to do barbering,” the Cumming woman said.

Wagner regularly works at a barbershop in Alpharetta but is helping at Whelchel in Gainesville while the barbershop’s founder Buddy Whelchel recovers from a back injury.

The friendly clientele is a perk for Wagner. 

“Our clientele base ranges from the local farmers that have chick houses and farms to the doctors at the hospitals,” Columbo said. “You learn a lot from the barbershop from just listening to people.”

As technology has progressed, Whelchel keeps current with a website and Facebook page. Columbo said his daughters are responsible for helping with the website, but online sites such as Yelp have brought in several clients.

“It’s kind of the old traditional, yet the new high-tech Internet helps out, too,” Columbo said. “(It’s) the old meets the new. Young people come in and tell you their problems, and you relate to them. You get to know people really well and share some of your problems with them. It’s kind of a therapy session at times.”

Many barbers who have worked at Whelchel have maintained a steady customer base. Some clients have been frequenting the barbershop since it opened, many having had their first haircut there as a child.

“You go to other places and you never know who’s going to be in there, because they keep swapping people around,” said David Karlson of Murrayville, who has been coming to Whelchel for more than 20 years. “It’s laid back and we can talk about anything you want to. That’s why they say go to the barbershop and you can learn all kinds of things about your community.

“It’s a place you can count on. It’s a place you can go all the time and you know they’re not going to be here today and gone tomorrow,” Karlson said.

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