Local beautician puts down scissors after 40-plus years
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
“In Penny Lane there’s a barber showing photographs of every head he’s had the pleasure to know…”
Unlike the barber in the Beatles song, Dannie Bradley doesn’t have photographs of all the heads she’s ever washed, clipped, cut or curled. If she did, they would probably cover the walls of the cozy little shop at which she has plied her trade for more than four decades.
“I woke up this morning wondering if this day would ever really come,” Dannie said last Friday, January 27, as she waited the arrival of the first customer of her last day. “I do have a lot of memories. Really and truly, I wish I had kept a journal because every day another story comes in the door.”
Though it was hard for her to do, Dannie decided recently that she would permanently retire from the trade she has practiced — except for a brief hiatus a few years ago — for nearly 60 years.
The past 40-plus years have been spent in the shop she operated in the rear portion of the Elite Barber Shop building, on Louisville Avenue.
“I’ve been in this shop since 1977, so you do the math,” she laughed. “Before that, I worked 13 years for my mother-in-law (the late Eleanor Hall) before I put this shop in.”
Dannie and her late husband, Larry Luker, bought the barber shop when their son Ricky, now 54, was 2 months old and their daughter, Karen Luker Flowers, was 4 years old. Their grandson, Nick Flowers, is following in his grandfather’s footsteps. Nick, who worked with Larry for years, now owns and operates the barber shop.
“Larry ran the barber shop; I ran the beauty shop,” Dannie recalled. “We did that for many years. When he died, this year will be 25 years ago, I kept it going. This has been home for me since 1977. Larry would say he was going to put a bed down here and make me happy.”
Except for a brief hiatus of “about two years,” she kept Dannie’s Beauty Corner going for another quarter-century after Larry passed away. She said there were two reasons she did so.
“They say that if you like your job, you’ll never go to work,” she said. “That was me. I enjoy doing this.”
The special relationship she shares with the women and men whose hair she swept from her floor every day is the main reason, though.
“I love my customers; that’s one of the reasons I hate to close up,” she said. “They’re my friends first, then customers. They’ve all been good to me. When I told them I was going to retire, they went into panic mode. After they got over the panic, they said, ‘but I don’t blame you.’ One of them told me that coming here was like coming home to family.”
Artie Brown, who has been a customer for “20-to-25 years,” said she wasn’t quite ready for a haircut, but the news that Dannie was closing up shop prompted her to change her plans.
“I’ve known her all my life,” Ms. Brown said as Dannie lathered up her tresses. “I used to work at Buster’s, and she used to come in up there. I heard it (the news) at church, just all of a sudden. I was going to wait until about the end of next month to get mine cut, but I said I better catch Dannie before she leaves.”
Thelma Baker, who has been a customer “off and on for 20 years,” said she was one of those who panicked when they found out their beautician was retiring.
“She started cutting my hair when she was over across the railroad tracks (at her mother-in-law’s shop),” Ms. Baker said. “Now she’s leaving again, and I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
Dannie said some customers “teared up” when they came by on her next-to-last day. Some even brought her presents.
“They’re already asking if they can come by the house and get their hair cut,” the hairdresser said.
But Dannie said she has plans, big plans, for the future, and those plans won’t allow her the time to see customers. She is set to marry Bob Nall, brother of Atmore City Councilman Webb Nall (who was also a customer) later this month. The couple met when Bob, who lives in Fairhope, was part of the July 4 program at Assembly of God Church.
“Bob [a retired Air Force veteran and a civil engineer] and I are going to get married, and we’ll be traveling,” Dannie said. “A job would be getting in my way. We were not going to get married right now, we were going to wait. But we got to talking and decided what are we waiting on; we’re old enough that something could happen. Life is getting shorter every day.”
She added that the thought of putting down her scissors for the last time was painful, but she knew the time for such a move had arrived.
“I should have retired a long time ago,” she said. “I have hairdresser friends who have retired, but I never have wanted to quit working. I love my job and all of my customers. If I didn’t, I would have quit 20 years ago.
“Somebody told me that I would know when it’s time, and I did. I feel real good about it and I’m excited, even though I’m going to miss everybody.”