John Combs is the owner and operator of Combs Barber & Style Shop in the SunTrust building.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN TRIMMING HAIR?
“Thirty years. We’ve been in this location 27 years. We’re technically a barber shop; there’s not many of us left.” Sue Combs, his wife and co-owner, has been in the industry for 26 years. The couple have had the same telephone number for the shop since 1963.
FAMILIES THAT CUT HAIR TOGETHER, STAY TOGETHER
Apparently, the family name was an edict for the family business. Combs has been cutting hair with his wife for more than two decades. He picked it up from his father, who learned the trade in the military. Other relations in the business include Combs’ brother (27 years) and his daughter Kristen (three years as a hairstylist).
The now-defunct Florida Barber College was where he learned the craft. “My dad gave me an offer to go to school. I didn’t think I would make a career out of it.”
WHY STICK WITH IT?
“You meet a lot of interesting people and have long-term relationships with them. Some, I started cutting their hair when they were little and now they’re business people. We don’t get a lot of little children in here, but we’ve had families where we’ve cut three generations of hair. You get to know them. I know their problems and they know mine. At times, I would like to do other things, but it’s a wide variety of people you deal with and it’s in a positive situation.”
“Half of my business is downtown people and the other half I’ve been doing business with for years. They’re mostly men. Downtown you’re close to people. This is a close-knit business district and I’ve built this business on a very loyal customer base. It’s a people business. They drive from Hilliard, Macclenny, St. Mary’s. We’re all getting older together. SunTrust is the third largest tenant to be in the building, [since it was constructed in 1975] so we get change. Law offices, CPA firms, stock brokers and insurance companies — they all move in and out. We constantly gain and lose customers, but by and large it’s the same base.”
DO YOU FACE?
“Sometimes my legs and feet hurt but that’s the way life is. You’re not going to reach the top of the mountain or the bottom of the valley; it’s a steady business. Like any job, you get used to it and you do it. After doing it for 30 years, it’s not challenging. I know what my customers want because I’ve been working on them for so long.”
WHAT CHANGES HAVE
“This is a great location, right in the center of town. We [SunTrust] were probably the first new building in this area. Atlantic Bank, the original owners, approached us to move into the building in 1975. Downtown was pretty alive then. The department stores were doing well in the mid-1970s. All of that changed to business offices instead of retail stores when they left.”
HOW WILL DOWNTOWN RESIDENTIAL IMPACT YOU?
“I would like to think that the people living down here would work down here. Hopefully I could pick up some of that business. There will be more hair shops, little cafes, places and things to do. I’ve been hoping for 20 years it will grow. It’s been a very slow process but it’s going to happen. I think we’re on the right track and I hope the next mayor will continue the growth of downtown. I think it would be neat to live downtown, to walk to work, have a drink after work and see my friends but I guess it’s a chicken before the egg thing. I hope it improves business for everyone downtown.”
WHERE DO YOU LIVE?
WHAT DO YOU DO
Yard work, watching football and annual ocean cruises with friends are favorite distractions. Admittedly a home body, Combs dines at The Tree Steakhouse when he ventures out.
WHO’S YOUR HERO?
“All the people who serve their country, especially in times like these. It’s a big sacrifice. My father [formerly in the U.S. Navy] didn’t see me until I was six months old.”
— by Monica Chamness