By his account, Tony Steele has been in the barber business for nearly three decades. As a kid in Detroit, the young entrepreneur began charging his friends for cuts and styling—and soon realized he could turn the hobby into a finely honed craft.
Six years ago, the owner of Classic Sports Barber Shop opened in downtown Franklin in a former garage on Fifth Avenue North, tucked just behind Sweet CeCe’s. Steele specializes in barber styles for all hair types, and says that he launched the masculine salon to bring back “the tradition of barbering.”
“I want to bring the culture of the old-fashioned barber shop back to the community. At old shops you could come in with your son and talk men stuff. There were conversations about baseball and wives and how their sports team was doing. It was all centered around camaraderie,” Steele said. “To me, a barber shop is the smell of lather and shaving cream. It’s older guys talking checkers and younger ones talking trash about sports.”
To recreate these nostalgic memories, Steele has fashioned his version of a man cave. Athlete posters and signed Titans’ player cutouts populate the walls of the small space. A big-screen TV is perpetually tuned to SportsCenter, next to an old neon sign that Steele bought from the William Powell Co. next door. And instead of a waiting area, the shop offers two sets of bleachers—facing the old-fashioned barber chairs—so that guests can participate in the ongoing conversation.
“We chose our name because sports are universal. It’s always an icebreaker, whether you are a grown man or a little boy who’s never been to the shop. You see this guy,” Steele said, pointing to the client who’s hair he is cutting. “He teases me ‘cause I’m a Lion, I tease him because he’s a Titan. That sort of thing goes back decades.”
Steele moved from Michigan more than 10 years ago, after his brother told him it was hard to find a good barbershop in the Nashville area. He first served clients at a unisex salon before launching his own operation in 2007. He says he saw a need in the Middle Tennessee area, and he’s been working to fill it since.
“My brother kept calling saying he was hearing that the professional sports players in Nashville couldn’t find good barbers,” he said. “Turns out, he was right. We cut a lot of current and old Titans players. I knew when I started it’d be a good opportunity, because there’s still a void of classic shops here.”
Another throwback to the olden days is the shop’s hours of operations. Steele and his other barber, Bryan Creson, open at 6 a.m. three days of week to accommodate the early risers. The pair takes both appointments and walk-ins, and says they can cut any hair type or style.
“It’s our craft, so we know how to cut anything. They call us Ebony and Ivory,” Steele said. “Bryan is the best barber I’ve ever worked with. We research to know the right styles, and the upkeep is important.
“Plus we’re versatile. We have everyone from businessmen to little kids wanting to look like Justin Bieber.”
Steele says he doesn’t consider his job work; he considers it an ever-evolving art form—and he truly believes he’s resurrecting a lost craft.
“My wife Stephanie asked me last night why I’ve stuck with barbering so long. It’s an art for me. A painter would always paint, and I’ll always do this. I have a love for it,” he said. “They say barbers don’t retire, they just die. I’ll be doing this until I’m gone.”
For more information about Classic Sports Barber Shop, go to www.classicsportsbarbershop.com.
“Faces of Franklin” is part of a series on merchants and small business owners in downtown Franklin, Tenn., that runs in the Williamson Herald.