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Mr. George to close Marysville barbershop
Shop's been open almost 40 years
For almost 40 years, it has been second only to church as the most popular meeting spot for black residents of Yuba-Sutter.
Mr. George's barbershop — part fraternal order, part debate club, part black history museum and part volunteer clearing house — has helped keep an eye on the needs of the community from behind a tiny, unassuming store front on D Street in Marysville.
Terry Hammonds, a devoted client, jokes about the cozy informal atmosphere surrounding owner George Jones' barber chair.
"We call his shop the black man's country club," Hammonds said. "You can say things in there you can't say anywhere else. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, and you can express yourself without ridicule from anyone."
But Jones, who is in his 70s, has difficulty now staying on his feet for hours at a time. He had knee surgery recently, and arthritis bothers him.
By the end of the month, he plans to lock up the barbershop for good.
"This is my favorite place," Jones said, glancing around at his personal treasures that adorn the walls of the shop.
A wry smile and faraway look indicate mixed feelings about the change.
Those privy to the barber's charity work — and his stealthy style of delivering it — are far less ambivalent about his departure.
"He was always collecting for one family or another," said Hammonds. "Now that he's not gonna be there, what's going to happen? It ain't gonna be the same."
Each Christmas, Jones enlists the help of a few friends, including Hammonds, to collect funds and put food baskets together for struggling families. The list always includes 10-20 whose names he requests from administrators of nearby Covillaud Elementary School.
"If anybody needed anything in the community, the word would come to him, and he'd hit people up when they walked into the barbershop," Hammonds said, laughing. "You never walk into that shop with money in your pocket or the money gets left there."
Care packages typically would arrive at Covillaud for the targeted families a few days before holiday recess, without any indication about their source.
"He didn't want them (recipients) to know where it came from, and we always respected that," said Covillaud Principal Doug Escheman. "We'd just tell them Santa Claus came early this year — things like that."
"People know what he stands for and they know he can be trusted," Hammonds said. "And he goes deep into his own pockets."
The work is partly religious, and partly personal. "You have to take on other people's problems," said Jones. "We do not like to wait around for a pat on the back. If you do it in good faith and good taste, you get your reward from God. Isn't that right?"
But history has made its mark on his approach as well.
Jones, like Hammonds, is a retired US airman. Both men grew up in racially segregated Bible Belt states where barbershops were the traditional source for important news and information affecting African-Americans.
"The barber played a major role in the old days," said Jones. "Back in those days, it was a hell of an achievement being a minority with your own business."
Photos and illustrations of his personal heroes adorn the walls of his narrow work space.
Among them are local retired airmen and other former members of the US Air Force.
Jazz icons also make the grade, along with art work depicting slaves and black sharecroppers.
But a drawing of the president, mounted high on the wall closest to the barbershop's entrance, holds, "the number one spot," Jones says.
"He respects what his elders had to go through," Hammonds explained of the decor.
The result is an atmosphere that allows Jones' clients to open up.
"They come in and talk politics, and old retired folks discuss things about the community or just ex-air force talk," Hammonds said.
Someone always jokes, "So did you solve the world's problems today?"
Jones is as private about his age as he is about his charity work and his personal life. He said he will continue in a leadership role at Bethel AME Church.
But beyond that, he shrugged, and smiled like he enjoys being mysterious.
Hammonds said he had retirement — not community service — on his mind when he first went to Jones for a haircut in 1994.
"But George would say, 'Whatcha doin' this weekend? I got something I could use your help with ...' and before you know it, you'd be showin' up."
The shop, and Jones' role in it, Hammonds said, will be loss to the community.
"I know he's got to slow down a whole lot," he said. "But it ain't gonna be the same when you can't go into Mr. George's barbershop."