As the hot towel slowly descends over Eric Briggs’ face, his eyes are closed and a smile of dreamlike contentment emerges.
“I wish you were at my house in the morning,” Briggs says to barber De Von McDowell.
He can’t be here just for the haircut — his head is pretty much shaved.
About the 100-plus-degree towel Briggs says, “this feels so good.”
He’s in the first chair of the refreshed and remodeled DeCharlene’s Beauty Salon on East Madison.
DeCharlene Williams died in May last year. She was a straight up, straight-talking trailblazer in the Central District. As a single mother working multiple jobs, she finally got the loan in 1968 to buy the building the shop still occupies. That came only after 30 rejections.
She dropped her first name from applications and went with an initial and last name. It worked.
DeCharlene was also a flamboyant hatmaker. She founded the Central Area Chamber of Commerce. Its office is still in the salon. Before you get there, you’ll pass a hat display with a few of the remaining ones left she made. They’re for sale.
She was grand marshall of the Umojafest Parade. Ran for mayor, though unsuccessfully.
When I first met DeCharlene in 1985, I photographed her with two patrons under hair dryers.
She instructed me to sit down and she would clean me up, cut my long hair and I’d leave improved. (I declined, and left unimproved.)
DeCharlene could tell people how it was and still make them feel good.
Her legacy is being continued by family and extended family.
Cosmetologist Crystal Williams is her granddaughter. “There aren’t many old-school places like this where you can get a good haircut,” she says.
Cosmetologist and esthetician Rachelle Roberts is her niece. “We’re carrying on her legacy,” she says. “I give the customer a little piece of history.”
Quinton Richardson comes in just about every week. Since age 9, he’s been going to McDowell, starting when he was at another shop. Today, after the soothing towel treatment, Richardson sweeps up around the chair — just as he did as a kid. He’s pleased with his cut: “It’s in the details.”