KENNETT SQUARE >> Joe Hughes sat in the barber chair for probably the longest haircut he ever had. That was because his barber, Bob Burton, kept greeting guest-after-guest at his shop’s 125th anniversary party and had promised he was not going to stop cutting hair while it was going on.
Hughes said the interludes didn’t bother him at all. In fact, he was just happy to join in the festivities at Burton’s Barber Shop during a party that started before dawn and went on into mid-afternoon.
Burton’s was founded in 1892 by Bob Burton’s grandfather, Amos Burton. Amos handed it over to his son Bat Burton in 1917, and then to Bob in 1962.
“It started out right next door, but it’s been along State Street the whole time,” Bob said.
For Burton’s customers — and actually the residents of Kennett Square — Burton’s Barber Shop has evolved into a popular baseball museum, gallery and information center.
On Saturday the barber shop was packed with guests who stopped by throughout the day to congratulate Burton and grab a bite to eat.
Burton’s always opens early for business, and there seems never to be a lack of customers, especially when the Phillies are playing or something else exciting is going on in baseball.
This crowd was especially heavy on Saturday.
“They started coming in at 4 o’clock,” Burton, 80, said. “You could barely fit through the door.”
Once the guests got in, however, there was plenty to eat — pastries and coffee early on, and then a variety of hors d-oeuvre later on.
There were also old friends and relatives to greet.
As people arrived, there were statements like, “Five generations of my family have come here,” and “This is my grandson who married the granddaughter of (so-and-so) who used to come here.”
It seemed as if half the people were related in some way or another in this small town.
Burton himself was jubilant, but he just couldn’t stop the talk about the Phillies and baseball. Periodically, he would leave the chair and point out a person or event in a picture among the many on his wall, and then he would proceed to tell the story about them.
He was especially happy when his family assembled and they stood around the refreshment table and cut the cake.
Later his daughter, Janine, praised him.
“The barber shop has been part of my life forever. I feel like I’m coming home. My dad is one of the most amazing people I know. ...If you do what you love, you don’t work a day in your life. That’s my dad,” she said.
As she looked around, she commented on the unchanging appearance of the shop.
“Look over there. It’s the same bubble gum he gave to the children when I was a kid,” she said.
Even from the beginning, players like Babe Ruth and Herb Pennock patronized the place. More recently, Curt Schilling and the late Dallas Green have stopped by.
The walls are colorful and lined with memorabilia including autographed pictures, bats, balls, trophies, plaques and bobble heads. Visitors can even see old black-and-white photos of kids from Unionville and Kennett high schools who played Little League as far back as the 1950s — boys whose sons and grandsons grew up starring in their own games.
But there are also shots of Major League Baseball greats like Richie Ashburn, Dick Allen and Charlie Manuel — folks who have arrived to speak at the famous “Old Timers Hall of Fame Banquet,” which Burton holds every year in January. It’s been going on for 37 years,and it honors local players who have excelled in baseball beyond the high school level. Usually between five and seven players are chosen every year.
The induction ceremony includes a short speech by a player or baseball commentator. This year it will be Phillies’ play-by-play announcer Ben Davis.
Guests at Saturday’s anniversary party had plenty of accolades for Burton.
Jeff Peterson said he likes to come and “listen to the guys tell stories all day long.”
Paul Sherrer said, “It reminds me of the 1950s. This place reminds me of my childhood. The range of topics....the problems of the earth get solved here,” he said.
Burton, still at the chair, said, “I’m seeing people I haven’t seen for years. (caterer) Danny Boxler has done an excellent job.”
Heart transplant recipient Danny Madonna, who has known Burton all his life, braved the cold in a wheelchair to wish Burton well.
“It’s like going to Heaven here. We solve all the problems of the world,” he said.
Madonna’s wife, Janice, said Danny spends so much time at the barber shop people around town call him “the Barber Shop Man.”
Prissy Roberts, who joins Burton in organizing the annual Old Timers Baseball Banquet every year, called Burton “one of a kind.”
“It’s amazing to have a family business go on the 125 years,” she said.
All day Saturday, the smile never left Burton’s face, and the guests didn’t stop arriving.
Said Roberts of the shop: “It’s a gathering place. Where else is there a place like this?”