North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

March 27, 2013

Still in the game: Gardendale barber Leon Cagle in 50th year of business

By Robert Carter
North Jefferson News

GARDENDALE — It’s not a men’s hair-styling salon. It’s a barber shop, and it’s been that way for half a century.

Leon Cagle likes it that way.

It is the traditional place for men to get their hair trimmed, shoot the breeze and engage in lots of gossip.

Cagle’s two-chair shop is located in Gardendale, adjacent to the post office on Decatur Highway. He’s only been in that location a little more than two years; before that, his shop was a little farther north, across the road from where the Gardendale Surgical Center now stands.

That shop was originally opened by his father, Robert Lee Cagle, in 1961. Leon Cagle moved in two years later, after having worked at shops in East Lake for a couple of years.

Gardendale was much smaller back then, and his shop was a bit out of the way, even though the highway was the main route between Birmingham and points north. Cagle grew up not far away in Corner.

Cagle has seen many changes in his 50-plus years behind the barber chair. Hair styles have changed several times, of course. Barber shops traditionally closed on Wednesdays, but now it’s Monday (Cagle stayed with Wednesdays off). Where once the local independent shop was the only place to get a haircut, now national chains have invaded his turf, and many of the old shops have gone away.

Political discussions have been a staple of his shop, but the political affiliations have changed.

“We talk lots and lots of politics here,” Cagle said. “Once upon a time it was 90 percent Democrat. Now it’s a pretty good mix. I went from Democrat to independent, but for the last few years I’ve voted Republican. It’s changed — used to be that the Democrats were conservative, now it’s more so the Republicans.”

Sports is a constant, especially Alabama and Auburn football. There are plaques on the wall celebrating each team, hanging just under a pair of mounted trophy bass. Cagle has his own preference, though. “Look to see which of those [plaques] is higher than the other,” he joked. (It’s the Crimson Tide, though just barely.)

But gossip is served as the main course.

“My preacher always says not to gossip, but I said to him, ‘I’ve been running a barber shop for 40-something years, and you can’t do it without gossip — and 90 percent of the time you’re the main subject,’” Cagle joked.

Cagle will turn 73 in a couple of months, but isn’t in the mood to retire anytime soon.

“I tell people I’ll go another 27 years,” he said. “I like being here where all the ‘bull’ is. I’m getting older, but I’d rather be here than sitting around.”