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A spirit that is not afraid

After 53 years, Campus Barber Shop to leave downtown Auburn

Campus Barber Shop in downtown Auburn on Nov. 20, 2022.
Campus Barber Shop in downtown Auburn on Nov. 20, 2022.

Ever since James Johnson bought it in 1969, Campus Barber Shop has occupied the same quaint 400-square-foot shop in downtown Auburn just a stone’s throw from Toomer’s Corner.

It is an institution that has seen multiple generations and countless students pass through for a fresh trim, eager to impress a date or land the next job opportunity.

Yet it will no longer fill that space after doing so for the past 53 years, joining a growing list of longtime businesses that have fell victim to a rapidly-changing cityscape.

With Monday slated to be its last day downtown, Campus Barber Shop will have moved to its new location in Suite 111 at the University Crossing Shopping Center on East University Drive on Dec. 1, across the street from Duck Samford Stadium.

While there are some benefits to the move, such as the additional 650 square feet of space and ample free parking that will prevent customers from having to circle the block numerous times to find an empty space, owner Karl Cochran mostly lamented the move.

"We didn't want to [change locations] but they're tearing the building down to build condos, so we lost our lease," Cochran said. "We wanted to stay downtown, but we didn't have a choice."

Cochran has seen it all. Having worked around Auburn since 1963, he bought the shop in 2005 after working there as a barber for four years. 

While there is opportunity in the change, his having to move the shop away from a prime location so close to its namesake after owning it for the past 15 years does bring some trepidation.

"I hope it'll be as good and I hope we can still get the students out there because we depend on students," Cochran said.

Despite the change in scenery, not much else will change. The shop will continue to use the same three-man crew comprised of Cochran and his two long-time friends and partners in crime Bubba Bowling and Tommy King.

Bowling, a longtime barber who has worked at Campus Barber Shop for the past 14 years as part of a 53-year career cutting hair around Auburn and Opelika, said he felt that the crosstown move represented Auburn’s rapid gentrification.

"It's just sickening to me. We're no longer 'the Loveliest Village on the Plains.' We've lost that. It's the ugliest village of the cranes. Everywhere you look, just cranes," Bowling said. "I mean it won't always be like that because they're going to run out of places to build but there won't be any places for barbers like us downtown."

But if life has taught him, the show must go on. His has been full of twists and turns that included owning his own shop by his house off a dirt road and leaving a job cutting hair in Opelika to take care of his mother after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

After all, reality has tempered his soul and taught him to take the good with the bad in stride.

"We'll reestablish it there, we will, because it takes more than just a building for all of that to come together, and we'll get it back," Bowling said. "We might have a temporary loss, you know, but it'll come back."

As for King, who has been in the business for 18 months, life has also been full of twists and turns.

A longtime computer programmer that worked for companies such as T-Mobile and Powertel in Atlanta, New Orleans and everywhere in between, he got started after Cochran gave him a call last spring to see if he needed something to do after retiring.

It turns out to be one of the best calls King ever got.

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“It's become a home away from home for me,” King said. “My wife said that she could tell a difference in me and my demeanor the first week that I was working. She said that I acted like I was five years younger than I did before.”

With that new profession has come a new perspective on those whose hair he grooms. Effusive in his praise of the respectfulness of the students who come in, King said he believed what Campus Barber Shop does runs deeper than just a quick trim and conversation.

“We're making some money, but we feel like we're doing a service for the student body also so we're hoping that everybody will follow us out there,” King said. “We're very, very appreciative of the Auburn students.”

And just like the rest of a city learning to reinvent itself with the changing times, Cochran, Bowling and King are out to prove that there is more to a place than the building it occupies. 

Daniel Schmidt | Assistant News Editor

Daniel Schmidt, senior in journalism, is the assistant news editor for the Auburn Plainsman. 

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