ARMONA — While driving down 14th Avenue in Armona, one comes to an unassuming shop just before Locust Street. The 600-square-foot building has a tan finish on the front and three large windows, but an unmistakable barber’s pole spinning in the right corner.
Step inside and history floods the senses, more than five decades worth. The building is Coplin’s Barber Shop, located at 10756 14th Ave., and has stood since 1965 with the same man at the helm of it all.
Eber Coplin, who just turned 88 years young on Nov. 7, recently completed his 65th anniversary as a barber. Incredible? Yes. Once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment? Yes. But when the time came, there was no lavish celebration or show-stopping party. Coplin was all business.
“I didn’t have an anniversary. It’s just another day,” Coplin said. “It was sometime in September. I don’t remember exactly what date it was when I started.”
Coplin has been cutting hair since 1955. He started off with an 18-month apprenticeship under a master barber followed by a state test. His apprenticeship was split between Armona, Coalinga, Eureka and Corcoran.
“After I got my masters license, I came back to Armona and I rented a shop down the street here from me,” Coplin said. “I was in there for nine years and then in 1965, I built this shop here and I’ve been here ever since.”
It took him a couple months to build the entire shop back then and now walking into it on Nov. 10, Coplin, with his white hair neatly combed back and friendly blue eyes behind a pair of specs, is hard at work on a longtime client. His cheerful disposition and the smile in his voice is something he’s carried around for a long time.
“Well, I never thought I’d ever work that long, but I am,” Coplin said. “I’m still going. I enjoy it and I guess I’ll do it until the day I go up there and start pushing up daisies.”
The green and white checkered tile floor is complemented by contrasting walls — white on one side and wood panels on the other. Coplin has two barber chairs in his shop, one currently draped with a piece of caution tape signaling its unavailability due to COVID-19, and a couple of chairs for waiting clients.
The brass cash register he rings up customers with has the word “National” emblazoned on the front. It’s from the National Cash Register Company, the maker of the first mechanical cash registers. He’s owned it since 1955.
After being in the business for more than decades, he has clients from Armona, Coalinga, Avenal, Fresno, the coast and other from around the country. It’s the nature of the job and people which have kept him going.
“I like to cut hair,” Coplin said. “It’s kind of a challenge … and then the other thing is I like the patronage you have. You can hear some interesting stories and you hear some that are not too good too. But it’s real interesting work and in the winter time I enjoy I only live a mile away from work.”
Originally from Oklahoma, Coplin made his way to Armona in 1946 and got married in the small town in 1951. Cutting hair had never crossed his mind until he got out of the Navy in 1955 and was working at a packing house in Armona.
One day, Coplin and his cousin, Jim Ellis, were loading boxcars with food to be shipped to the east coast and temperatures soared to 110 degrees. Ellis’ father suggested that they should become barbers. They both quickly nixed the idea, but it got even hotter the next day.
“My cousin said, ‘You know what? We oughta check on that,’” Coplin said.
On their next day off, they traveled to Fresno to look into the barber college.
“They had us a deal there, if we signed up then … they’d give it to us at a special price,” Coplin said. “We ended up paying the special price, signed up for it, and the rest of it’s history.”
Ellis also barbered for several years, but eventually got out of it and became a locksmith on the coast. He retired over 10 years ago and moved back to the Valley. But Coplin kept at it and is still going strong.
“I liked it from the start and I still like it, but I didn’t have any idea how long it’d last,” Coplin said. “I enjoy it, so I don’t see any reason why to quit, as long you’re healthy and ready to go.”
Cutting hair isn’t the only thing he’s good at either. For 16 years, he played country and gospel music at the Armona senior center.
“It got to be bigger and bigger and bigger and then about five of us formed a little band,” Coplin said.
With Coplin on rhythm guitar, their band was called the Country Cousins and later known as the Armona Pickers. The senior center was eventually sold so his band went to The Remington in Hanford where they became The Remington Wildcats and played there for another 13 and a half years. Now he just plays at home.
“We’ve had a good time,” Coplin said while reflecting.
Today, one just needs to take a peek inside his shop to understand how long Coplin has been at his craft. A poster advertising Sandahl’s shampoos, which was originally hung in the 1950s, sits on the wall clearly weathered by age. A cork board holds photos and newspaper clips. One small piece of paper says “HAIRCUT PRICES SINCE 1955” when a child’s haircut was 75 cents and $1 for adults.
He even has a binder full of first haircuts recorded on multiple sheets of paper. He didn’t keep track right away, but began with a boy named Gregory Macedo in 1962, and is now nearing 900 first haircuts.
Coplin’s Barber shop is currently open Tuesday-Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Lunch is from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. And there are no plans to change that schedule any time soon.
“I don’t have any plans for retirement,” Coplin said. “I’ve had back surgery, both knees replaced, I’ve had a lung punctured … but I’m still here.”
Noe Garcia can be reached at (559) 583-2431 or email@example.com. Follow Noe on Twitter at @noecarlosgarcia.
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