Lake O Livelihoods: Carol’s Hair Barn hangs on in drained Glades economy

PAHOKEE — Carol Peaden started her beauty shop business here as a survival strategy back in the mid-1980s when her husband became ill with kidney disease, knowing he’d no longer be able to be breadwinner for them and their children.

And she and her shop, Carol’s Hair Barn, are still here, tucked behind flowering bushes and trees just off Mel Tillis Boulevard/East Main Street in the north part of town (2291 E. Main). She worked uptown at the time; her husband was a welder for the Okeelanta Corp. It’ll be 35 years for her business here in 2020.

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
Carol Peaden always puts her customers at ease with a joke or a big smile before she’ll ask, “Now, what are we doing with this?”

Going through town Saturday, Sept. 21, the thought occurred that I’d failed to make my usual haircut appointment, so made a U-turn on seeing her sign and stopped in. The Hair Barn beckoned at the end of the fresh gravel driveway, the perfect rusty red color of an actual Midwestern barn, luring me to take careful, sun-blinded steps up onto the porch. An older lady was having her trim finished as I entered.

When they finished their chat and the lady paid and left with her grandson, Carol invited me to be seated in her old-fashioned barber’s chair. Asked about the shop’s history, she went on to explain how she got into this typical mom side business: “We had an old, old house here, brought in a drag line and tore the old house down. My husband’s doctors were wanting him to have a kidney transplant … and I knew that I would be sole supporter of me and him and four teenagers,” Mrs. Peaden said.

They’d bought the property in 1971, intending to demolish the house and build a new one with a beauty shop in back for her, eventually. But his sickness interfered.

“So my mama — she used to live in Ocala back in those days, and she knew of a place up there that’d build this. This is not a trailer, it’s a modular,” she said of the narrow but comfortable shop.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
One of Mrs. Peaden’s sons recently put down new gravel on her driveway.

“So I went to the bank down here and borrowed money and had it built up in Ocala, and they brought it in here. We got it set up and that was in March of 1985. And then … he was on dialysis three times a week and I’d take him to West Palm. In May, they had put him on a kidney transplant list and said, ‘Oh, it’ll take a year, or so, to get a kidney.’ Well, it wasn’t no time. He got a call, and we went to Orlando and by 8 o’clock that night, he had that kidney, perfect match.

“That’s what they said when they called me that morning, but he died a month later because of negligence of the hospital. See, when anybody has a transplant, and you go in their room, you’re supposed to have a mask. He died June 11.”

Saying I was so sorry to hear of her experience, Carol replied, “I am, too, because I was left with four teenagers to raise. But I got ’em raised, and my baby boy is still living with me, and he’s 47. The youngest.”

Mrs. Peaden has three sons and a daughter.

“She’s about two minutes down the road here. The other boys live up in Okeechobee.”

Carol’s a purebred Floridian, “the only Florida Cracker left here, born in Wauchulla,” she says. Lived in Pahokee, “in and out, all my life.”

Having been on the main drag in town so long, she must have had some famous faces looking back at her in the mirror a few times, right?

“Ever cut Mel Tillis’s hair?” I said, naming the first Pahokeean celebrity I could think of. “No,” she answered, “but I do gospel singin’ on the side, and my group that I was in at the time — which was with my aunt, she lived in Wauchulla — and we had a singing group there…”

She explained, her aunt went to the same church as Doyle Carleton, who was running for governor in the late ’80s and on the board of the Tampa State Fair. “…And he got us in to open for Mel Tillis.” She sang with the Jewel Harper Singers, and they had a run from around 1988 through about ’91, Carol said.

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
Whenever something’s happening in Pahokee, Brian Entin, an Emmy-winning reporter for WSVN-Channel 7 in Miami, gives Carol a jingle and comes up to interview her. This picture was taken during the Hurricane Dorian scare on Labor Day weekend.

“In fact, all his people that lived here, I did their hair but they’re all passed on now.”

A number of Mrs. Peaden’s CDs from her “other” career are in a rack at the end of the room. The sign says they’re $15 each, but she’ll happily give one to someone who shows interest. Also in the small studio space are silk flower arrangements that she sells.

She does have a brush with “fame” now and then, on local TV stations at least, when something newsworthy happens. Brian Entin, a reporter for WSVN-Channel 7 in Miami, has interviewed her a few times.

“When Dorian was coming through here — you know, they said it was going to come across here — so Brian messaged me on Facebook, said ‘Carol can I come talk to you?’ and I said, “Suuuuurrre, Brian’ … because he’s put me on TV two or three times. Everybody said, ‘Oh, Carol, you’re a star,’ but I said ‘No, I’m the only idiot here in the Glades that will talk!’”

Her business has declined through these many years, she admits matter-of-factly. It started back when the malls were being built in coastal cities, in the late ’60s with the Palm Beach Mall, and then again in later years when the Gardens mall, then the Wellington one, were established. She’s had to trim back her hours and take other part-time jobs at times, but “when I opened in ’85, I had a swamping business … people w 30 minutes all day on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.”

Now, however, she has fewer appointments due to many factors: deaths among her aging clients; longtime residents’ defections from the Glades to the coast during this area’s repeated, prolonged economic contractions; and major demographic changes in the Glades population.

A barbershop opened downtown within the past several years catering to the increasing numbers of Latino and Caribbean immigrants in the area. “When he first opened I had a lot of Spanish men. I’ve still got a few, but I had a lot more Spanish customers over the years.”

So … “Oh, yeah, it’s fallen off over the years but, through much prayer, God is bringing me back customers, like bringin’ you in!” She laughed.

But she hastened to say that Carol Peaden doesn’t plan to go anywhere anytime soon despite the circumstances. Many of her friends, she says, have moved away or passed on, and she says “Glades people, if they want anything done, they go to West Palm, or they go to Okeechobee.” She’s worked up there and seen former customers. “They do everything over there, that’s why the Glades has gone down so bad.”

Her plans?

“I’ll be here. I’m 72. I have no place to go.”

Send suggestions for future installments in this ongoing series to Chris Felker at cfelker@newszap.com.

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Facebook Comment