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Old-timer’s barber shop sidelined for sake of innovation

Barber Joe Tankersly stands at the corner of his 20’x 20’ shop, balancing his hand on one of the three open chairs and a cloth swung over his shoulder. At sight, there’s not much to the shop. Four yellow walls pinned with the occasional Clemson football headliner. The sound of the news from a single TV gambling with the buzz from the razor. The occasional back-and-forth dig between costumer and barber—a quarrel that is always followed by a laugh. The old Clemson House lies vacant now—no residents. But the sounds of the 65-year-old barber shop can be heard from down the hall. A taste of Clemson’s small town ambience nestled in the heart of the ever-expanding university. 

And according to Tankersley, that’s how it’s been for the past 65 years. 

“Well, us at the barber shop—we’re a family,” said Tankersley, “Students have been getting their haircut here for the past 65 years, and we’re a part of the Clemson family.”

For the past half-century, students, faculty and alumni have visited the Clemson House barbershop for the haircuts just as much as the discussions. The age range in the one-room shop is from 4-years-old to 90, with some of the customers loyal to the place for 50 plus years. Conversations divvy from football to politics, between professors and alumni and between elderly veterans and bright-eyed freshman cadets. 

But the shop’s new conversation has assumed a darker subject. 

The university is planning for the demolition Clemson House in early summer of 2017. With the destruction of the hotel will come the anticipated demise of the barber-shop. 

University planner Gerald Vander Mey said that university planning doesn’t have any authority over the barber shop. But he knows that Clemson House needs to come down.  

“We keep a lot of records on the building inventory; we do studies every few years to help inform us about the conditions of buildings. And that helps maintain how the building is taken care of,” said Vander Mey,  “And that’s all recorded with the state. Clemson House had failing grades in every building system. And to bring that to a state of usefulness would be extremely expensive.”

Vander Mey said there could be an attempt to bring the old hotel back into the state that it was, but “it wouldn’t be like anything that they need today.”

“We would have to renovate it to the point where it could be useful to today’s users. For the future. Looking at all that, we determined that it would be more cost effective, and better from a functionality perspective to demolish and replace it and time—whenever that becomes a more viable option.”

Vander Mey also added that there are other historical buildings on campus that are beginning to show “wear and tear,” but because they are on the historical register they take a higher priority when it comes to renovation. 

“Clemson House is a little different because it is not on the historical register. 

And it’s in poor condition,” said Vander Mey, “In very poor condition.”

To students like senior mechanical engineering major Karl Bossard, the shop is a tradition, “kind of a thing for the cadets.” Bossard, along with several others from the Tiger Platoon, have been trying to garner student support for the shop. On Monday, Bossard and Tankersley appealed to CUSG. They also started an online petition which has been signed by nearly 700 people. Even more alumni and students have personally contacted the shop voicing their pleas to keep it alive. 

“The biggest problem with administration is that they didn’t know students had a want for this to even be on campus in the first place,” said Bossard, “So our job right now is try to show that students do care, and to get those voice[s] heard.”

Tankersley and Bossard said they both know that the original shop will be lost in the Clemson House demolition, but their hope is for the administration to recognize them as a necessary part of Clemson’s campus and to provide them with a new space, maybe in the new Douthit Hills construction plan—really all they need, Tankersley said, is another “20’x 20’ building.”

Tankersley shakes his head as he flips through a pile of printed out support from his costumers past and present.

“Significant contributors, significant people and good people who have lifelong experiences here at the university, they all come to this place,” Tankersley said. “And [all] I’m trying to do is keep them together. So will [the demolition] be another punch in the gut for people who love Clemson and old-timers?”

Tankersley nodded as his eyes travel around his shop. “Absolutely.”

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