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Slye's Barbershop stays old school in Old Town Laurel

Laurel Leader
'There's always a lot of gossip going on to look forward to at Slye's'

In Old Town, a barber's pole in front of 817 Montgomery St. nods discreetly to the townsmen of Laurel.

Nothing as obvious as a commercial sign identifies Slye's Barbershop, a boys club of sorts where three generations of Slye family barbers have been grooming Laurel's fire fighters, city officials and residents for decades.

Steeped in more than 80 years of small town memories and the spirit of loved ones lost, the old-fashioned barber's shop promises to preserve its nostalgic character as a fourth generation stands poised to continue the family business.

World War II veteran and lifetime Laurel resident Laudis Turney Sr., 92, said he started going to Granville Slye Sr. for haircuts in 1945 when he came home from overseas service.

Turney "hung out over there as a kid" and remembers when the Laurel Fire Department occupied the modest white building before it became Slye's Barber Shop.

"They had an old Model T Ford firetruck with wooden spokes and solid rubber tires and pulled the fire truck out there on the apron," he said.

In 1935, the fire company moved across the street to the former Phelps and Shaffer store at Ninth and Montgomery streets, and Granville Slye Sr. (1909–1989) and his wife, Mildred (1912–1987), rented the property and converted it into a residence.

Granville set up his barber chair downstairs, according to his son, Granville Slye Jr., 77, who grew up on the premises.

In 1964, Granville Jr. and his wife, Mary, purchased the property at auction.

The Slye family was in the midst of building an 18 by 30-foot addition to the original dwelling when Hurricane Agnes ripped through Laurel in 1972. They added five more feet to the expanded shop in 1987, the year that Granville Jr.'s son, Mark Slye (1963–2015) came aboard.

Mark's younger brother, Keith, fresh out of barber school, would follow soon after.

According to Laurel City Council President Ed Ricks — who said he's been frequenting Slye's since he was a little boy — there's always a lot of gossip going on to look forward to at Slye's.

"It's like visiting family, a perfect example of what old Laurel is and what we respect about the way the townspeople grew up in and around the city," Ricks said.

Turney said he's had haircuts from all three generations of Slye barbers over the years and that Granville Sr. taught guitar lessons at the barber's shop to some of his friends. Today, he enjoys catching up with what's going on in Laurel with Granville Jr.

"He's been around and he knows all the people," Turney said.

Ricks said the Old Town shop is a place men go "to get what's happening now."

Second generation

Granville Slye Jr. started cutting hair at his father's shop in the mid 1950s and said he hopes to continue until his 80th birthday, coming in three years.

By then, his grandson, Brandon Slye, 20, should be firmly entrenched in the family business.

Granville Jr. never aspired to follow in his father's footsteps. He said the Slye family legacy started because he quit high school and Granville Sr. insisted that he go to the barber school in Baltimore where he had graduated.

More than 60 years later, Granville Jr. has no regrets.

"Once I got into it, it turned out to be okay," he said.

What has kept him going all these years, he said, is the people of Laurel who come in to the shop.

Granville Jr. said "it was a good feeling" when his younger son, Keith, went right from Laurel High School into barber's school in Wheaton, where Keith's brother Mark had trained.

Mark Slye died of bone cancer in January 2015. In front of the shop, hand lettering on a pole spells out "Mark" in his memory.

Another pole says "Skinner" in memory of James Skinner, a friend and customer who, in his 90s, hit the gas instead of his brakes and crashed through the front wall in 2014.

"We lost a day and a half [for repairs]," Keith, 46, said.

"He [Skinner] was funny," Mary Slye said. "He said, 'How about a haircut; isn't this a drive through?'"

Memories of Mark Slye are a tangible presence inside the shop. Keith said his brother crafted the 30 hand painted wooden cutouts shaped like football helmets that line the walls on either side of the 1970s retro interior.

"There's his chair," Keith said.

A framed collage of photos of the Slye family and some of Mark Slye's friends at a 2015 Relay for Life fundraiser at McCullough Field hangs on one side, and some of Mark's trophies sit on a shelf in a back corner.

Mary Slye — who worked for years at the former Woolworth in the Laurel Shopping Center — said her son had never been sick a day in his life before the cancer struck.

She remembers how he helped a customer who used a wheelchair.

"Mark had a gentleman who couldn't get in the door," she said. "He cut his hair outside [that day] and built him a ramp."

Laurel resident Marvin Rogers said he misses chatting with Mark with the sound of country and western music in the background.

"He was a really good barber and a very nice person," Rogers said.

Keith's son, Brandon Slye, plans to pick up his shears at the family shop after wetting his feet for a bit working in full service salons.

A 2014 graduate of Laurel High School, Brandon is currently finishing his final exams at Paul Mitchell The School, in Jessup.

"My grandfather has been trying to get me to come in more," he said. "I am very honored to be part of the fourth generation, and that my family looks at me with confidence to carry on the family business."

A student of cosmetology — which he said requires a separate license and uses different implements than barbering — Brandon looks forward to cutting his own niche at the family shop.

He wants to add a shampoo sink and hair dryer, he said, and plans to offer modern styling and services such as installations, weaves, styling and spot techniques, including women's chemical services.

Mary Slye said her grandson has gone "deeper into it than these guys [Granville Jr. and Keith] did."

Keith Slye said he has no plans to start advertising or to create a social media presence, but that he and Granville Jr. will be happy to see women come in to the shop.

"We just don't know how to cut their hair," Keith said.

(history of the barber business)

According to Boise State Public Radio, the cost of a basic haircut in Manhattan was 10 cents in 1935.

Granville Jr. thought his father started out charging a quarter in Old Town, but said he'd heard someone say it was 10 cents.

When he picked up his own shears in 1955, the price of a basic haircut (the only service Slye's has ever offered) had reached 75 cents. In 2014, it was $8; today, a Slye haircut costs $10.

Patrons have included Laurel mayors Merrill Harrison, Harry Hardingham and Joseph Robison, said Granville Jr.; and former Laurel Volunteer Fire Department Chief Richard Blankenship is a familiar face.

"They're old school and they give a good haircut at a reasonable price," Ricks said. "Why change anything?"

"Our customers like an old fashioned barber shop," Keith Slye said.

This story is part of our Landmark Businesses series.

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