Jeffersontown’s Old, Reliable Barbershop
Writer / Beth Wilder, Director
Jeffersontown Historical Museum
William H. Martin was a prominent businessman in Jeffersontown. He originally operated a livery stable on the town square from 1907 – 1925, but he adapted with the changing times and switched to selling cars. In 1925, he opened his new business – Martin Motor Company – in a large brick and tile structure on Taylorsville Road, just behind where King Southern Bank now stands. Martin’s Garage took up the left side of the building, but the right side of the building served other purposes – the second floor was the residence of Martin and his wife, Fannie, while the first floor housed the barbershop, pool room and candy store of his sons, James Elliott and Charles “Bucky” Martin.
When the Martin Brothers Barbershop opened in 1925, James did the barbering. His younger brother, Charles, who was only 15 at the time, helped operate the pool room and snack bar that were part of the business in its early years. Old photos show the candy cases that held confections on the left side of the store, pool tables in the back of the shop and, of course, barber chairs to the right of the entrance.
Around the age of 17, Charles attended the Tri-City Barber College in Louisville. After working for about a year in other shops, he eventually was allowed to share barbering duties with his brother, James, at their shop. According to a 1977 Jeffersonian newspaper article, Charles had to get some experience under his belt before he was allowed to work with his brother in Jeffersontown because “you had to be pretty good to make it out here.”
At the time, James and Charles were practically the only barbers in Jefferson County outside the city of Louisville. Most of their business came from locals and country folks who did not want to travel too far to get a haircut. On Saturdays, it was noted, “you couldn’t hardly get in that place.”
Like most barbershops in the early 1900s, Martin Brothers was a gathering spot. At the time, there were not a lot of venues for recreation and very few people owned cars. Taking the interurban electric car into Louisville was considered somewhat of a trip, so most people tried to find things to do closer to home. Martin Brothers offered them that outlet.
Not only did the shop contain a pool room and confectionary, it was the first place in Jeffersontown to have air conditioners. In fact, they were among the first air conditioners shipped to the Louisville area.
The Martin brothers also had the first fluorescent lights in Jeffersontown and one of the earliest television sets (the very first in town belonged to local librarian Betty Elswick, who had most of the town at her house on Thanksgiving Day, 1948, to watch a football game). A November 26, 1948 Jeffersonian ad proclaims, “It’s Here! TELEVISION. Now in Operation. Come in and See it. R.C.A. Television Dealer, Martin Bros. Barbershop.”
By the 1950s, ads touted Martin Brothers as the “Old Reliable Barbershop” and it was. The brothers opened the shop at 8 a.m. and worked daily until 9 or 10 p.m. Charles Martin noted he had worked at the shop for 30 years without a single day off. For 16 of those years, he charged 25 cents a haircut. Although during the Depression, he offered a weekday special of 15 cents for children. Quite often, he received farm goods in payment for his services, but that did not bother him. In fact, he greatly enjoyed the local produce.
The only time Charles Martin was ever away from the business was during World War II when he was stationed in Texas for his stint in the Army and was company barber for 300 men. According to some locals, because of his service in the Army, a “burr” haircut was all he could give people.
Actually, Charles did do more than “burr” haircuts. By the 1970s, he was having to “style” the longer hair that was in fashion for men, and he gave as many shaves as he did haircuts. Times changed a lot over the years for the men who began barbering “when electric clippers were just coming in,” but the Martin Brothers remain a beloved memory to many a man in Jeffersontown.