Mrs. Willie B. Boothe has been a well-known and well-respected barber serving the best-looking heads of hair in Malvern and surrounding areas for over 50 years. She’s 87 years old, but her stunning good looks, sharp wit and energetic air lend to her a much younger impression.
Boothe was born in Carthage in 1935, but she’s lived in the local area since she was six years old. She grew up happily here in North Malvern and got into the barber business shortly after high school, after watching one of her many childhood friends in action at the barber’s chair.
Carroll’s Barber and Beauty Shop at the corner of Oak and West Page in Malvern housed a single barber chair at the front of the building and a small women’s hair salon to the back of the room, when Boothe first came in to get her own hair styled by her friend, Exie Carroll, in the mid- 1960’s.
Boothe’s childhood pals, Charles and Exie, had wed each other in young adulthood and opened the business together. Exie styled in the rear salon, and her hubby began barbering at the chair up front. Boothe said she was getting her hair done by Exie one day when she glanced over at Charles attending to a customer and felt a certain inspiration come over her.
“I was getting my hair done, and there was a partition in between, and I looked at him cutting hair and I said, ‘I believe I can do that,’” Boothe recalled. “He said, ‘Try it,’ so, I went to barber college.”
Boothe earned her credentials at a Little Rock barber college in 1968, and then Charles invited her back to work in his establishment. He brought in a second barber’s chair, and they had an easy and successful working arrangement together until Mr. Carroll passed in 2015.
“I’ve been in this chair, this same chair, since 1968,” she said. Carroll’s shop made a name for itself as a welcome haven for the African American community, and for offering great service from friendly, warm and highly skilled professionals in the likes of him and Boothe.
“He was well-known in Malvern,” Boothe said. Carroll was smart, dignified, patient, and much admired as a role model in his community. And though they might’ve had the room and the customer base to dictate adding another barber’s chair, Carroll never saw the need.
“And that’s the way he wanted it, he never wanted it to be nobody but just us two,” Boothe said. She is now the sole barber and employee at the shop, but she shows no signs of slowing down, even at 87 years old.
“I love cutting hair, I love cutting hair,” she emphasized. “And my guys don’t want me to go.”
Boothe cuts the hair of many local African American religious leaders, politicians and notable names in Malvern. She fondly remembers Justice of the Peace Pete Willis, who sat on the HSC Quorum Court and was a regular customer, and as we spoke, City Alderman William Wilson stopped by the shop.
Alderman Wilson has diligently served as the voice of his ward through his seat on the Malvern City Council, a seat he has held for over 30 years now. Wilson brought with him another young gentleman, Christopher Burrell, to get one of Burrell’s twice-monthly trims he’s been getting from Boothe since he was a little boy.
Alderman Wilson, Mr. Burrell, and other loyal customers, as well as newer clients like the other young man who drove all the way from Carthage that morning for his second visit to the shop, keep Boothe quite busy these days. She wouldn’t have it any other way.
“They don’t want me to go, and I don’t want to go, and as long as my health holds up, I’ll stay,” she said. “If I start to shake, I’m going.”
Boothe is a retired case manager who worked in job training assistance for HSC, and she carried an empathetic ear honed at the barber’s chair to her other roles helping residents of the county, compassionately serving her community in every way she could.
Outside the barber’s shop, Boothe loves gardening, working with young children and assisting the elderly. After retiring from case management, she worked for 10 years managing the River Park Apartments and she started a youth program at her religious house of worship, Calvary Church of God in Christ.
Boothe is open for business at the barber shop every Thursday, Friday and Saturday for walk-in customers. She doesn’t take traditional appointments, but word spreads, and new and return customers come from all around the central Arkansas region to get the special treatment they know they will receive from Boothe. And frankly, Boothe can’t wait until Thursday rolls around.
“It gives me energy. When Thursday comes, I know I’ve got something to do, and I’m anxious to do it,” Boothe said.
Boothe’s husband Roscoe just turned 95 and is currently in temporary rehab at Arbor Oaks, and Boothe has been juggling work and visits to the rehab, as well as celebrating Roscoe’s recent birthday with a big party at the facility. Willie and Roscoe raised five girls together and have been blessed with eight grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild.