September 9, 2019

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The buzzing sound of hair clippers fills the air inside King's Barber Shop.

There’s no flashy sign outside attracting people to a glitzy salon. King's is as simple as it gets.

Fluorescent lights illuminate faded pictures of Jamaica tacked up on the wood panelling.

The kitschy interior has remained the same since the shop first opened in 1987.

“It’s homey, it’s comfortable,” says customer Dylan Dabreo, who first walked into the shop, on 101st Street just north of 109th Avenue, seven years ago.

We’re from the same region in the Caribbean, so we just have regional talk about back in the day, about how things were. It’s pretty cool.”

Ransford Perry, the owner of King's Barber Shop, emigrated from Jamaica in 1980.

After living in Toronto for a year, he moved west to Edmonton and started his first barber shop in Canada Place.

“I was in Ontario,” says Perry, 73, who has a Jamaican accent and a bright smile. “And guys from here came to Toronto, they said, ‘Why don’t some of you guys come to Edmonton. We have no barber there.’ So that’s why I’m here.”

Perry has been cutting hair and trimming beards since he was 12 years old.

His son Carlton, 39, has a chair in the shop. He decided to follow in his dad’s footsteps at the age of 17.

“It’s worth a million dollars when the client is happy, that’s the best feeling,” says Carlton Perry, who was called “the kid” by clients when he first started.

He studied graphic design in college, but the hair business and the chance to work beside his father kept luring him back.

“It’s a good environment for me as well, working with my dad,” he says. “It gives me great pride, great pride.”

Over the years, the client list has grown, and it’s now common for some customers to show up hours before the shop opens.

Ransford Perry says it has been that way for years.

“Some guy was here at four in the morning, and we open up at seven,” he says.

On the Saturday before school started, 13 people were lined up outside the door.

Anthony Soungie first stepped into the barber shop when he was 10 years old.

He’s almost 40 now.

“My dad and my uncles and my dad’s friends used to come here,” says Soungie.

On a recent day, five-year-old Oliver Ingosi squirmed in Carlton Perry’s chair as he got a fresh fade for the new school year.

Not too far away, his dad Ryan Ingosi kept a close eye on him.

“It’s a good atmosphere, good vibe, friendly,” says Ingosi, who used to come for haircuts but keeps his head shaved now. “Sometimes you can come here and everybody’s just having this huge conversation, and it can be crazy stories from anywhere.”

With as many as a dozen people waiting at any given time, the conversations can get lively.

“It carries a certain vibe, and culture that people like,” says Carlton Perry. “The camaraderie is good and we try for the most part to keep the conversation civil. Sometimes emotions get in the way.”

You can forget about phoning ahead to save a spot. It won’t help. There are no appointments at King's.

Customers come in, grab a number off a cork board near the cash register and wait their turn.

If you miss more than one spot, it’s back to the bottom of the list. And that’s the rule no matter who you are.

“It’s like an appointment to a degree,” says Carlton Perry. “You come, you pull your number, you can step out and do something and come back.”

Over the years, some Edmonton Eskimos and NHL players have become regular customers. Signed pictures from Flames great Jarome Ignila and former Oilers bruiser Georges Laraques hang on the wall.

Beside them is an autographed picture from former Eskimos legend Henry "Gizmo" Williams, a customer from the first day.

“I remember one year, I think it was Damon Allen took me for a drive in his Corvette,” Carlton Perry says. “I was still a teenager then. So yeah, a lot of good memories.”

Ransford Perry says Williams still comes in, but it’s usually his two sons who are climbing into the chair.

When talk inevitably turns to retirement, Perry says he isn’t ready to cut ties with the shop just yet.

“As long as I can have the energy to go,” he says. “When I don’t have the energy no more, that’s it.”

That’s just fine with his clients, who are more than willing to wait.