Court Street has become an extension of the quintessential college town that is Athens, Ohio. Students of Ohio University have turned this historical street into an avenue for partying. As more bars take the place of old shops and restaurants, the locals have had to establish their “townie” hangouts elsewhere. But, despite the party culture, one business has managed to preserve its historical presence on Court Street and offers a glimpse into the past.
The iconic red and white pole seems to swirl from a distance, and can be spotted from several blocks away on Court Street. When you walk into Carsey’s Barber Shop it’s like walking into the ’50s. Black, brown, white and red hair is scattered on the floor. The sound of electric blades wrestles with chatter about the holidays, the game, and the wife and kids. Old advertisements for Coca-Cola and Marlboro cigarettes plaster the walls. University letter jackets hang next to a businessman’s coat on the rack by the door.
This is a man’s world, and it’s obvious that no matter where the customer has come from, he expects nothing less when he walks through the door.
Four proud barbers line the mirrored wall. On the end, you’ll find Mr. Carsey himself, well his son that is, standing behind a leather seat, meticulously combing his customer’s hair. Max Carsey has been a barber his whole life. His father, Jesse Carsey, who still lives in Athens, started the business in 1942 when Max was just a baby. Max grew up in the shop and watched his dad cut men’s hair until one day, he would be old enough to do the same.
“I had so much fun in there, I decided I wanted to be like him,” Carsey said.
Carsey has seen the transition of Court Street’s businesses from a window shop’s view. He reminisces about “the good old days” when he could take a sack of coins to Woolworth’s Five and Dime and fill his pockets with candy. Now, he says, there is nothing but bars and restaurants.
But Carsey has made a point to maintain a high level of tradition in the shop. There is no music playing, no flat screen televisions lining the walls and no selection of flashy hair products. Carsey’s is the real deal. Men go for a good haircut, not the special treatment.
“I’ve been to several of the barber shops,” said Todd Wilson, owner of Sol restaurant. “They have the best haircuts here.”
The regulars at Carsey’s aren’t just Athens’ locals, they are students as well. Matt Watts, a junior at Ohio University, is a regular at Carsey’s.
“I like the vibe here, it’s quick, cheap and easy,” said Watts.
Carsey’s also prides itself on truly knowing their customers. Alan Trout, barber at Carsey’s for 19 years, has many regulars and he considers them his friends. On the off chance that Trout doesn’t recognize the next guy to walk in, he will make a point to learn their name.
“You just don’t get that kind of interaction anywhere else,” Trout said. “It’s a lot of the reason I have this job.”
All four barbers at Carsey’s are trained to use a straight blade, which is hard to find these days. A straight blade is considered dangerous and technique must be mastered before a barber is qualified to use one. Brian Muschott, barber at Carsey’s for three years, said he wouldn’t shave his customer’s hair any other way.
“I know when I walk in here, I’ll walk out with a good cut,” said Watts.
Carsey’s never has a slow day. Customers are in and out all day long, each one of them leaving satisfied with a clean, new haircut. And it is the combination of good conversation, a good haircut, and a sense of tradition and pride in their work that Carsey’s has managed to overcome the flood of students on Court Street and withstand the test of time amidst the chaos of modern life.
Cassie Kelly is a student journalist at Ohio University. She is working toward a certificate in environmental studies and hopes to pursue a career in science journalism. You can find her hiding out in Village Bakery, typing away on her beloved MacBook.