The ‘Duke of Barbers’ Has a New Home

Duke Barbershop and longtime barber move to the Bryan Center

Duke barber Dave Fowler preps Brian Backus, supervisor of sign and graphics services for Duke Engineering and Operasions, for a recent haircut. Fowler has worked at the Duke Barbershop for more than 50 years. Photo by Bryan Roth.

Even before Duke was Duke, there was a barbershop on campus.

Established in 1912, years before Trinity College became Duke University in 1924, the Duke Barbershop has catered to students, faculty and staff for more than 100 years. Go in today and you'll find one man who's been cutting hair at Duke for more than half that time.

Dave Fowler celebrates his 55th year as a Duke barber in 2014, a tenure that has included cutting the hair of thousands of students, employees, numerous basketball coaches and five Duke presidents. Even with a collection of A-list customers that has included former basketball coach Bill Foster, announcer Hubie Brown and President Richard Brodhead, any student or employee is welcome to get a haircut.

"When I first came, students tended to be pretty neat and conservative - some even wore a coat and tie to class," Fowler said. "Then things changed. About 10 years or so ago, there was a trend of close, neat haircuts, but now most anything goes."

These days, Fowler and his fellow Duke barbers cater to a wide variety of hair care requests from a new shop in the lower level of the Bryan Center. As part of the West Union renovations, the barbershop was moved over the fall and reopened in the 650-square feet space in December. In addition to Fowler, five other barbers provide service.

Along with natural light shining into the space, the shop includes a traditional red, white and blue spinning barber's pole, Internet radio and complimentary coffee for customers. Prices start at $19 for a men's haircut and $30 for a women's cut.

Among those regularly taking a seat in Fowler's chair is L. Gregory Jones, senior strategist for Leadership Education and professor of theology at Duke Divinity School. As a long-time customer, Jones said he appreciates the convenience of an on-campus location, reasonable prices and interaction with Fowler.

"I went there for Dave when I was a graduate student in the 1980s, and then when I returned as Dean of the Divinity School in 1997, I resumed having Dave Fowler cut my hair there," Jones said. "My father went to Dave before me, and my son went to Dave when he was a Duke student - so it has been a family affair."

Fowler has become such an institution at Duke that graduates Robin and Mark Prak decided to name a study space in Perkins Library after the barber. In the corner of the lower level of the library, Duke community members can spot a plaque reading "In honor of David W. Fowler, Jr., the Duke of Barbers for Over 50 Years."

"I went to barber school in downtown Durham and planned to go back home to Smithfield, but I thought I should practice here and not mess up heads in a small town," Fowler joked. "I decided to take it one day at a time, and I've been here ever since."