Customers, barber want to stay in city building

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 1, 2000

D.C. Parker gets a trim from old friend and barber John Boone at South Street Style Shop. (The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

As a customer walks through the door, those inside John Boone’s barber shop greet him by name.

Waiting for a turn in the shop’s single chair, they talk about politics, business and family. But these days, mostly about politics, specifically Boone’s feud with the city over whether he can keep South Street Style Shop open.

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“I just don’t feel like it’s fair,” he said. “I’ve been here so many years, they can’t just tell me to leave.”

But the building around him was purchased by the City of Vicksburg during former Mayor Joe Loviza’s administration, and when Mayor Robert Walker took office in 1997 Boone started feeling pressure to leave, he said.

State law stipulates that cities can only rent propery to private businesses if it is “surplus property,” but Boone said Loviza promised he and other tenants could stay as long as they wanted.

All together, the barber shop, a travel agency, a shoe repair facility and an area used as the Open Door Bible Church, occupied about a fourth of what had been known as the Neill Building. The rest, which abuts the south side of City Hall, was converted to office and storage space for an expanding city government.

All the tenants except Boone are now gone and Walker said he has tried to work with the barber, but with a possible expansion in the works for the Vicksburg Senior Center, “The space is not, as I see it, surplus.” The highly popular senior center is in the space formerly used by the church.

Walker said he has been trying to get Boone to move to a different downtown location for several years now, several times sending letters saying the city was not planning to renew his lease.

Boone has been trimming hair at the location for 35 years. When his wife got a job in Carthage five years ago, he moved with her, and now drives to Vicksburg four days a week hours every morning to get to his customers.

The men are far from strangers; they’ve been getting their hair cut here for decades. Some of their fathers got their hair cut here. Many of their children do.

“My sons and grandsons all got their first haircuts here,” said D.C. Parker, a longtime customer. “It’s hard enough to keep a tradition going without someone running you out.”

When a petition circulated supporting Boone’s shop, it amassed 500 signatures, including South Ward Alderman Sam Habeeb.

Habeeb said his signature on the petition was not a conflict of interest.

“I’m a constituent also,” he said. “It’s my duty as an alderman to let people know where I stand.”

Habeeb said he believes the property is surplus, and thinks the mayor wants to use the space to expand city offices.

“I think we have plenty of space for offices already,” he said.

Walker recently gave some ground in the fight, agreeing to declare the property surplus for the remainder of the current administration, giving the next set of elected officials the option of taking another look at the property.

But according to state law, Habeeb and Walker agree, that will mean having the shop appraised and setting the rent at a fair market value, which may be higher than the $185 a month Boone is paying for his few square feet.

Boone, meanwhile, has no plans to move. He says he will fight to keep his shop open.

But if he is forced to go, he said, he won’t open another shop in Vicksburg. He’ll cut out the daily commute that has put 250,000 miles on his car in the last few years and open up a shop in Carthage.

“If he leaves town, I’ll have to leave with him,” Parker said.

“I intend to give everybody directions,” Boone answered.