Century-old Baton Rouge barbershop showcased in National Geographic magazine

BATON ROUGE, La. (LOCAL 33) (FOX 44) - A Baton Rouge barbershop is enjoying a cut of international acclaim, a spot on the pages of National Geographic Traveler magazine.

Webb's Barbershop, at the corner of Government St. and Eddie Robinson Dr., has been around since the 1920s. The publication's February/March issue, which lists the best small cities in the United States, ranks Baton Rouge as No. 19, and it includes Webb's under the "best groomed" category.

"Black and red linoleum floors and vintage swivel chairs summon up the 1920s founding of the historically African-American Webb's Barber Shop in Louisiana's capital city," a writer for the magazine said. "It's one of an unusually high number of hair salons and grooming spots that let the good-looking times roll in this relaxed town sprawled along the Mississippi River."

Louis Tillotson, who has worked at Webb's since 1964, says the sounds of razors and scissors are only rivaled by those of gossip, chit-chat and laughter.

"This is where you can let your hair down, even if you can't let it down at home," he said.

Customers of young and old recall conversations about sports, cars, politics and hobbies.

"Different people come in with their opinions," said Mike Harrison, a customer of 35 years. "Especially sports opinions."

One longtime client is N.B.A. legend Shaquille O'Neal, who first visited during his freshman year at L.S.U.

"He still stops by when he's in the area," said Tillotson. "He's no different than other folks. He likes to sit down, laugh and have a good conversation."

Lenny Davis has worked at Webb's for 34 years. He said as the hair grows, so do his customers.

"Oh yeah, I've seen kids grow up," he told BRProud.com. "Then they bring their kids back, their families, their generations."

A few generations ago, in the 1960s, integration brought change to the block where Webb's sits. Tillotson said many historically black businesses lost their clientele.

"Laundries, pharmacies, black businesses all over," he said. "After integration, they couldn't survive, because black people started going to the white hotels and restaurants."

But Webb's stayed alive. That's a testament, Davis said, to the role barbershops play.

"You make friends with your customers," he said. "One you make friends, you don't go anywhere."

Tillotson said, in his shop full of talkers, word of mouth has also sustained business.

"If you cut good hair, if you do a good job, then you're going to have business," he said. "You have mouth-to-mouth, people asking, 'Where'd you get your haircut?' They say Webb's, and that brings business."

The February/March issue of National Geographic Traveler is available in stores now.


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