In a fast-paced world, where immediacy is everything, it’s rare to find places where time seems to come to a stop.
In a small, unassuming building near the corner of Palafox and Garden streets in downtown Pensacola, you can almost feel time stand still.
There’s something nostalgic about walking into Esquire Barber Shop. For more than half a century, Esquire has meant more to Pensacola than razors, scissors and hair. With its red, white and blue-painted storefront, the traditional barbershop has been a Pensacola mainstay for decades.
But perhaps even more of a Pensacola mainstay is Esquire barber Joe Brown, who at 100 years old is the oldest living barber in Florida and one of the oldest in the world.
But life as a child was not so easy for Brown, born in 1916. His father died when he was a child and he worked at an early age on his family’s farm. Brown later joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal program under President Roosevelt during the 1930s, making just a dollar a day.
After going to school to become a barber, Brown first began cutting hair during the Great Depression, starting out at the landmark Hotel San Carlos in downtown Pensacola.
Brown spent some time in the Army during World War II, fighting in Germany, before returning to Pensacola to practice his craft.
Tony Riha, owner of the barber shop, says Joe still works a regular schedule and hasn’t taken a vacation since the last century.
“After the San Carlos Hotel closed, Joe was 65 and I hired him,” says Riha. “The rest is history.”
To celebrate his centennial, friends, family, and longtime customers came out to wish Joe well this month.
“It was chaos that day,” Riha recalls. “A lot of people came in to wish him well.”
The notion of retirement has little appeal for Joe, whose work has always been a cut above the rest.
“Working really does keep him going,” Riha says.
Walking into the shop, you can immediately sense the history here. memorabilia lines the dusted walls, some of it nearly as old as Joe himself. The slow-moving, barely changed shop is a space to come witness a devoted art being preserved, cut by cut.
“It started with people bringing something to put up on the wall,” Riha says, pointing out recent additions to the shop’s walls.
Esquire stands out in the growing sea of new downtown businesses and modern salons popping up throughout the downtown area.
“This is still the only barber shop downtown like the real ones,” Riha claims. “We wear traditional white jackets and dress pants. We’ve being doing it a long time.”
At 100 years young, Brown has seen loyal customers come and go and longtime friends retire and pass on. Even still, Brown has no plans to put down the scissors anytime soon.
“He’d be dead if he didn’t,” Riha says . “It keeps him going.”