STONE MOUNTAIN, Ga. — Friday will be the end of an era for a barbershop in DeKalb County. After 30 years, Nick's Barber Shop on Redan Road in Stone Mountain is turning its “open sign” off.
Owner Vance Harper said he was forced to make this decision, due in part, to the pandemic and the high cost of rent.
"There’s a time with everything, I’ll lead off with that," he said. "The pandemic is part of it. The community is not the same. It’s not affordable for me to stay here it just don’t make sense anymore. With the pandemic, barbers leave, people went different avenues, it just changed the world. We were still afloat until the pandemic hit."
Dozens of loyal customers, some of who Harper has seen generations of their families, are now saying goodbye.
"It’s been our country club for this community," Greg Goodwin said.
Goodwin has been going to the barber shop since it opened its doors in 1991.
"The number of folks that have come through here, I have never seen anything like it in my life," Goodwin said.
Many others who frequent Nicks's Barber Shop, just like Goodwin, said it is the place to be.
"I'm probably going to miss the camaraderie more than the haircuts," Goodwin added.
Harper named the barber shop after his son, Nick.
"I named the shop after my son in order to stay focused," he said. "I wanted for him to be very successful in life because I worked in the criminal justice system before doing this."
Harper has a criminal justice degree and was a probation officer in Miami before working at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary.
His mother-in-law had a hair salon in the same strip mall, and that's when he decided to open his own barbershop.
"When you have a passion, you can do anything you want in life," Harper said. "I don't know if I can live up to a passion like this one. I'm not retiring, but this right here... the passion... that's how I learned how to cut hair. I stood up beside guys and watched them until I learned how to cut hair and I think I became a pretty good, damn barber."
After three decades of getting haircuts from the probation officer-turned-barber, Harper, it's time for their last one.
"I've cut thousands of hairs in here," Vance said. "Thousands... thousands."
Harper has gotten countless awards, plaques, and celebrity signatures on the walls: from Bernice King, Otis Nixon, and Steve McNair.
February 29 has even been declared Nick's Barber Shop Day in Georgia. He's most grateful for the customers-turned-family.
"When I was down they helped me. I didn't grind these 30 years by myself. It wasn’t easy, so I had to piggyback off of their spirits too in order to achieve these accomplishments for so many years," he said.
As to what's next, Harper said while he is not sure of that answer, he knows it is not retirement time for him.
His clients, however, are not sure where to turn to next.
"Does anybody know a barber in Snellville? But you have to offer something more than a haircut," Goodwin said. "It's just food for the soul!"
Many said the shop's been an institution in this neighborhood, and now they aren't sure what to do without him. Harper and his customers will have their memories to take with them.