Small Slice of Life: The Politics of the Barbershop | NBC 10 Philadelphia
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Small Slice of Life: The Politics of the Barbershop

David Chang/NBC10
Calvin Berkins stands in front of his barbershop, Shear Magic in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — Two things are almost always guaranteed inside the average barbershop: haircuts and political talk.

With Hillary Clinton arriving in Johnstown, Pennsylvania Saturday afternoon as part of her bus tour, Shear Magic Barbershop, located on 225 Market Street, seemed like a good place to go to hear the political views of some of the Cambria County city’s residents.

When I stepped inside I felt the shop’s vibrant energy despite the small space. The sounds of both a razor and a fan formed a constant humming noise in the background. About ten customers were inside sitting in all corners of the shop, either waiting silently for a cut or chatting amongst themselves. The shop's owner, 52-year-old Calvin Berkins, greeted me.

“You need a cut?” he asked.

When I told him I was actually interested in interviewing him and his customers about Hillary Clinton he didn’t skip a beat.

“Well interview me then,” he said, as he continued to cut a young boy’s hair inside the chair.

Berkins, who grew up in Norristown, Pennsylvania but moved to Johnstown where he opened his shop, described himself as a Democrat who voted for Bernie Sanders during the primary but supported Clinton once she became the party’s nominee.

“You’ve got Hillary or Trump,” he said. “I’m voting for Hillary. I’m not a Trump person. Trump says what people want to hear. He’s never talking about the real issue. The real issue is jobs.”

Berkins’ concern about jobs stems from his belief that a lack of employment and high crime rate are in direct correlation with one another. He also had a simpler reason for his concern.

“The more jobs, the more people come in for haircuts,” he said.

Johnstown Code Enforcement Officer Samuel Barber sits with his son inside Shear Magic Barbershop.
Photo credit: David Chang/NBC10

Berkins then pointed towards 40-year-old Samuel Barber, who was sitting in the back of the shop with his teenage son, and said he was a good man for me to talk to. Barber, who works as a code enforcement officer for Johnstown, proved Berkins right, expressing his political views with little hesitation.

“I’m voting for Hillary,” Barber said. “Bernie Sanders? His plan wasn’t going to work. You can’t pay everybody $15 an hour. It’s just not feasible. It would kill all the small business.”

Barber was equally dismissive of Donald Trump.

“He says what everybody is feeling. But you can’t do what he wants to say. You can’t build a wall. How could you talk about immigration when America was built on immigrants? I’m a third-generation Italian. My family came from another part of the world.”

Barber described himself as a Democrat but admitted to having issues with some of the party’s policies, mainly their stance on social security and welfare.

“It’s too easy not to do anything in America,” he said. “It’s too easy to get a social security. It’s too easy to get welfare. Nobody wants to work and it becomes a generational thing. They’re starting to make it too easy not to work. We need to get back to our core values.”

Despite many of his views sounding like common GOP rhetoric, Barber insisted he wasn’t a Republican.

“The worst Democrat is going to be better than the best Republican,” he said. “I’m Democrat but I do have certain views that go different ways. I’m just an independent thinker.”

Another independent thinker inside the shop was 26-year-old Darryl Palmore. Originally from Washington, DC, Palmore went to high school in Johnstown and works as an assistant manager at a store in the city. He described himself as a Bernie Sanders supporter who is now, reluctantly, supporting Clinton.

“Normally I wouldn’t vote for any of them,” Palmore said. “But given the situation I have no choice but to vote for Hillary. I don’t feel like, given the situation that’s going on in America right now, that if Trump wins, things are going to get any better for the hardworking people. I don’t feel like he’ll help us at all.”

Palmore was initially drawn to Sanders because he felt like he directly addressed his concerns as a younger voter.

“I felt Bernie was talking directly to us on the grounds of education and the reform of the criminal justice system,” Palmore said. “She[Clinton] needs to do exactly what Bernie did. She needs to talk directly to us if she wants our vote.”

I thanked Berkins and his customers for allowing me to speak with them and left, feeling a bit surprised that I hadn’t met any Donald Trump supporters inside the shop. I soon discovered where many of them were however. They were waiting outside Johnstown Wire Technologies on 124 Laurel Ave where Clinton was expected to go on her private tour.

Dozens of Trump supporters were standing on one side of the street compared to only about a dozen Clinton supporters on the other side. The Trump supporters booed loudly as Clinton’s campaign bus arrived.

“She’s a modern-day Jezebel with blood on her hands,” Monica Morrill, one of the Trump supporters, told me. “If people don’t know their Bible history, go read the story about Jezebel. Hillary Clinton, you are a modern-day, 21st century Jezebel and we want you to leave the state of Pennsylvania. You don’t belong here.”

The complete contrast in political views expressed in two different parts of the same city was proof that a barbershop isn’t always a microcosm of a community. Instead, sometimes it’s simply one small slice of life out of many. Still, if Clinton plans on visiting Johnstown again and is hoping for a better reception, she may want to consider getting a haircut.


NBC10's Vince Lattanzio and David Chang are on the road with the Clinton-Kaine campaign as they tour Pennsylvania and Ohio by bus. Follow their travels on FacebookTwitterInstagram and to get dispatches from the trail and behind the scenes views of what it's like to cover a presidential campaign.