Talking shop with Billy Sisco, owner of Sisco's Barber/Hairstyling

Monday, May 23, 2011
Bill Sisco inside his barber shop on N. Sprigg Street in Cape Girardeau Friday, May 20, 2011. (Laura Simon)

After 50 years of service, Billy Sisco feels as though he has never worked a day in his life. Following in his father's footsteps as a barber, Sisco received his certification from Moler's Barbering College in St. Louis on June 12, 1961. He has worked at five locations in downtown Cape Girardeau, where he has also lived his entire life. For the past 17 years, Sisco's Barber/Hairstyling has maintained its current location at Broadway and Sprigg Street.

Question: Tell us about the history of your shop.

Answer: I started with Dad in June of 1961. The amazing thing, one of my dad's customers told my dad, "I give it two years to last." So probably he didn't think father and son could work together. What puzzled me is that he gave us two, and we'd already been together 18 years.

We were together until 1984 when he passed away. Not one time during those twenty-something years did we ever have a disagreement or an argument.

Q.: How did you first get started in the barber/hairstyling business?

A: There was not one single day in my life that I ever thought or said, "I don't know what I want to be," but there was never one certain day or hour in my life that I said, "I know, I'm going to be a barber." Never, because I just lived one day at a time -- just whatever I was doing that particular day.

It was just from within, it just flowed within. There was never a day when I said, "I know what I want to be."

Q.: How have hairstyles changed throughout the years?

A: Throughout the years they've gone through trends. For example, you can go back to the '30s and '40s when everybody's hair was combed backward and had everything on it from lard to Crisco. Combing their hair forward, it would come way past their chin. Then you go to the early '60s when everyone was wearing flat tops and crew cuts. Then in the late '60s everybody thought that longer hair was in; of course the Beatles came in. Our establishment was the kind that we could leave hair -- people wanted it taken off, but they also wanted it left. We did not really struggle during that period. There were a lot of barbershops that closed because of the lengthy hair. We were known -- in fact one person comes to me to this day because in the '60s, we ran an ad in the college newspaper. All the way across the bottom it said: avoid that fresh haircut look, call Siscos. So I have one customer that started, and he's still with me because of that one ad.

Q.: What do you enjoy most about your job?

A: The part that I enjoy the most is really the whole concept that my customer is not just my customer -- they're my buddy, they're a part of my family. I love it when somebody comes in and they've been so unhappy with their hair that whenever they leave you see a smile on their face. It's sad whenever a person hates to get a haircut. It makes me happy whenever they don't mind or they look forward to getting one because they're going to be happy afterward.

Q.: Tell us about your historic barber's chair.

A: When my dad came into town in 1938 the airport was at that time was called the Harris Army Airfield. The two barber chairs that were there in 1940 or 1942 were where the military people got their haircuts. That's the chair that I have right now. It's just a chair that I love, and it's got the historical value with it.

Q.: What does it mean to you to be able to use the same chair that your father used?

A: It really means a lot. This is a chair that is just not for sale. There's just something different about it.

Q.: Is there one particular haircut experience you'll never forget?

A: One day I received a call, and this individual told me he'd like to get a haircut. He came in, gave me his name, and I did his hair about three or four different times. About the fourth time haircut, he said, 'Mr. Sisco, I owe you an apology. I am not the person you think I am. My name is Rush Limbaugh.' At that time we knew him as Rusty. He imitated a businessman in Cape. I wrote down the businessman's name. I did his hair about three times thinking it was someone else in Cape and later on I found out he talked just like this individual and wrote his name down and talked to the people out in the waiting room in the same voice as the other man. So that was one of my historical memories was doing Rush Limbaugh's hair when he was in high school thinking it was somebody else.

Q.: Unlike many other barbershops that welcome walk-ins, your customers are served by appointment only. What led you to adopt this policy?

A: My dad worked from 1933 to 1948 without appointments, and he started the appointment system half a day at a time and finally worked it all the way through the week. As I tell people, this is the only way I've ever worked. Every class at SEMO is by appointment. You go to work by appointment, you have an appointment at your doctor's office, church service starts by appointment, weddings funerals are by appointments. The only reason you wear a watch is to keep appointments. It's a constant work, and I bend over backward to work my customers in.

Q.: You grew up in downtown Cape Girardeau and have worked here your entire career. What do you envision for the future of downtown?

A: When I was growing up, when you went to town, you went downtown. Almost every establishment deals with one particular thing -- every store you look at deals with one certain area of a service or product. I envision now with all of the new developments, maybe start expanding in other areas of where more things might be starting to come in.

Pertinent address:

211 N. Sprigg St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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