HIGH SPRINGS – At 25042 US-27, on the outskirts of High Springs stands a small white cinder block building whose history is intertwined with the community. Its only distinguishing feature is the wall-mounted barbershop pole that has been rotating for more than half a century.
Over 60 years ago, Otto Duncan opened the shop and became the first African-American licensed barber in the area. From his two-chair barber shop he continued to cut the hair of the High Springs community until his death in March 2020 at the age of 92. After his passing, the barbershop sat shuttered, its antique porcelain and leather chairs vacant and the barber pole light that had rotated for so long remained off.
Andrew Miller grew up in High Springs and knew Duncan, who had cut his hair as a child. Miller became a master barber himself and studied barbering at Bly’s School of Cosmetology and Barbering in Gainesville. Miller, a graduate of Santa Fe High School, was active in several clubs including the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), which helped him establish his career. At the age of 19, Miller opened his first barbershop in High Springs and called it Poetic Cuts. By the age of 22 he was doing well enough to open a second shop in Gainesville. At the same time, he was also taking care of his elderly grandmother. When she died, Miller felt running two shops was becoming a burden and closed both shops and worked as a barber for Great Clips, which provided a steady paycheck without the responsibility of being the business owner as well. But his desire to have his own shop never faded away.
After Duncan's passing, Miller, now 25, heard that a stylist was going to move into the building. Miller contacted her to see about renting out the other chair as an independent barber. What happened next Miller describes as having come from nowhere but would change his plans completely.
The stylist contacted him the next day to suggest that he take over the lease and she was going to withdraw. “I was not really expecting to own my own shop again, but the opportunity suddenly came up and I decided to take it. With its history and Duncan's impact on the community I didn't want to see it disappear,” Miller said. “I am proud to follow in Duncan's footsteps and keep the place as it has been for over 60 years.”
He plans to keep the old chairs and furnishing as an old time feel. He has also tried turning on the barber pole and was surprised to find that despite being 60 years old, it still works.
On June 20, that pole will again be lit and rotating when Miller reopens the barbershop under the name of his first shop, Poetic Cuts. Starting at 10 a.m., there will be a ribbon cutting ceremony dedicated to Duncan. This will be followed by announcements by several city officials including the High Springs mayor. Miller also plans to have free food, a bounce house for children and prizes for attendees.
The small shop has two styling chairs and Miller said might add staff. He charges $12 for cuts for kids 12 and under and for 13 or older it’s $15. His barbershop is not just for men’s cuts, he said. “I can cut women styles as well,” Miller said, adding that he learned a variety of styles while working for Great Clips hair salon.
“I am setting up a telephone reservation system where people can call to be scheduled. As a barber its can be frustrating to set specific times for appointments and have people not show, which can then affect other appointments,” Miller said. Customers can call in to be added to the days list of appointments. “I give them the approximate time based on previous customers so there is a constant flow but not a long wait time for the customers,” Miller explained. “If someone isn't there for their appointment, they will get put on end of list, it will be first come first served so no one has to wait long.”
While Miller had not planned on reopening his own shop, he is looking forward to being his own boss and the flexibility of the hours while not being confined to a shift. The chance to carry on Duncan's legacy and keep this historic barbershop alive was an opportunity he had to take.
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