Step into the barber chair! Wayne Johnson’s got a story for ya
By: Alexa Chan
Denton Live July-Dec 2011
A man with weathered features stares out the window, watching people pass by the sign with the familiar striped barber pole. Wayne Johnson, seated behind a chipped black desk, waves toward the window to Bob, Harry, Jim and the others walking past on Elm Street. This desk has been here from the beginning of his shop, he says, pieces of Denton’s history. Wayne leans back and smiles. “Do you want to hear a story?” he asks. “I’ll tell you a story.”
Customers wait along a wall of the shop: a line of Wranglers and boots, starched white shirts and brown slacks, plaid button-ups and jeans. Everyone has a first name here in Wayne’s shop. Each conversation is a continuation of the one from their last visit: new job openings, teacher cuts, UNT football, money. Everyone has a story to tell, Wayne says. “It’s why I love what I do. Meeting people, talking to people.”
While Wayne talks, his customer John waits his weekly turn in the barber’s chair. John makes conversation with the man beside him, the two of them laughing and remembering a previous visit when they made a football bet. John helped Wayne move his shop from Fort Worth to Denton’s Downtown Square – and didn’t get paid a penny, says Wayne, chuckling under his breath. “But I got a free haircut out of it, didn’t I?” John says, standing up to take a seat in a black-and-silver barber chair.
Stepping through the dusty tan-brick façade of Unique Barber Stylists is like stepping into Denton’s past, complete with a cast of local characters. Their barbershop is the fourth oldest business on the Square. Across the street is the Courthouse-on-the-Square built in 1896. As original members of the Denton Main Street Association, Terissa and Wayne Johnson have seen Denton grow and thrive over the past four decades. But their 36-year-old shop isn’t just a business. It’s family. “Some people walk through the door and give you a hug. Some get out of their chair and give you a hug as they’re leaving. You don’t see that anymore,” Terissa says wistfully.
“Our little barbershop is kind of well known all over the state,” Wayne adds proudly. Terissa, a feisty woman with soft features, sits up in her chair as she talks about being appointed by Governor Rick Perry to serve on the State Board of Barber Examiners. During her four-year tenure, she helped craft exams for barber schools across Texas. She throws back her head and laughs. “I don’t know if every barber knew us, but every barber school did.”
Wayne grew up knowing he wanted to be successful like the barber in his hometown of Throckmorton. When he and his wife moved to the Square in 1967, there was just Ethan Allen, McBride’s pawnshop and McNeill’s Appliance, but they made a bet on the future. “We love downtown. Downtown is the place to be right now. We think we helped start that,” says Wayne.
The place is decorated in UNT spirit: football posters, mugs and flags. Giant posters of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley line the back wall where the customers wait their turn. Shelves are piled to the ceiling with shaving mugs and shaving tonic bottles. “We wanted to keep the shop ’50s and ’60s themes,” Terissa says. Hanging on the wall, just a few inches above her head, is “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” a watercolor accompanied by a collection of other hand-me-downs and gifts from customers throughout the shop.
In the middle of a long line of chairs, where customers wait to get a haircut, stands a “weight and fate” scale. The scale was originally in Schroeder’s Pharmacy for 53 years until it closed. “John Schroeder gave me that scale and he wanted it to remain on the Square and we’re going to keep it that way, even after we’re gone,” says Wayne. He remembers as a boy, the excitement of getting on his barber’s scale. Kids today love it just as much, he says.
The kids who come into the barbershop today are descendents of an older generation that grew up with the Johnsons. Wayne’s been cutting Dr. Timothy McGuire’s hair since he was 12 years old. The doctor is now in his 50s. “He went away to medical school, but when he came back to Denton, he still kept coming back,” says Wayne. A sly smile stretches across his face. He is enjoying the memories. “Do you wanna hear another story?” he asks. Terissa has heard this before and leans back in her chair, ready for another tale.