Richie Bishop owns Arcade Barber Shop, a century-old downtown fixture that has relocated to 2763 West Park Drive. Bishop said it’s been difficult to find enough barbers to keep up with customers since West Kentucky Community & Technical College stopped offering a barbering course in 2009.
“It was a bad deal for us barbers,” Bishop said. “You can’t find any barbers. When they shut that school down, there’s just no young kids going into barbering. It’s to the point now where you’ve got to go to Louisville or Bowling Green where they’ve got a college to find a barber.”
A barber for 44 years, Mike Thompson owns both Komelias Hair Shoppe and Grant’s Barber Shop in Draffenville. Son Grant Thompson ran the barber shop until last year, when he left barbering to pursue other work. Now, Mike is in the same predicament as Bishop.
“I can’t hire anybody,” Thompson said. “I’ve got a chair here empty. I’m 63 years old. When this generation dies out, who is going to take over?”
Thompson went to barbering school in Louisville. Nearly four decades later, that was where his son went to learn. Three of the state’s nine barber schools are located in Louisville, with two more in Lexington. Barber College of South Central Kentucky in Bowling Green is on the western most edge of remaining schools.
WKCTC Vice President of Academic Affairs Tena Payne said the school tried to keep the barbering program open as enrollment continued to drop during the merger of Paducah Community College and West Kentucky Technical College.
“We were having to make some tough decisions, and that was one of them,” Payne said. “It was a continuous low enrollment program. We did a lot of advertising and public relations, but the students just weren’t there. We might start a semester with six students and finish with just one.”
WKCTC continues to offer a cosmetology program, which Payne said offers similar skills training. There are currently 80 students, both male and female, enrolled in the upcoming cosmetology class.
While there is an overlap in some areas, Thompson said beauticians are legally unable to provide some services, such as shaving.
At the time the college discontinued the barbering program, Payne said it was the only public school still offering the training. Sara Marvin with the Kentucky Board of Barbering said two of the nine schools are accredited, allowing students to receive financial aid, but none is public.
“They’re all privately owned,” Marvin said. “There aren’t any programs through schools like the University of Louisville or Murray State.”
Whether the school is public or private, Bishop said the lack of opportunity to learn the trade cuts off a potential career path.
“Not everybody can go to college,” Bishop said. “There’s got to be these trades out there, welding and carpentry and barbering. There’s a great demand for this stuff, but they’re closing down these vocational schools.”
Call Jody Norwood, Journal staff writer, at 270-575-8658.