Stepping inside Estine Davis’?barbershop is like stepping back in time.?
Four red leather barber chairs wait to greet customers next to a shoe-shining chair and a 1950s-style rotary telephone. The wall of Estine Eastside Barber Shop,?106 N. Piedras St., displays dozens of framed items collected over time, including certificates, thank-you notes and a drawn portrait of Davis back when doo-wop still was a popular genre of music.
When?Davis, now 88 years old,?looks toward Alameda Avenue out of?her?barbershop’s tall windows, she sees the memories she’s made during?the nearly 60?years that she’s owned it.
She still remembers the troughs outside her shop, where her car now is parked, that held?water for horses. And she remembers a trading post that used to be across the intersection —?and roller-skating down Piedras.?
Those memories haven’t dimmed.
And now, Davis said,?”I see a bright?future to be in El Paso.”?
Davis, who has owned the?barbershop since 1962,?has cut thousands of people’s?hair since taking it over from her godfather. From entertainers like Little?Richard and the Harlem Globetrotters, to customers?who would go on to become public figures, including?El Paso police Chief Greg Allen, Hall of Fame college basketball coach Nolan Richardson, and “Black Klansman” author Ron Stallworth, Davis said everyone can?get their hair cut, regardless of who they are. Everyone is welcome.
Davis, who is Black, was presented with a commendation Wednesday from the Texas House of Representatives “for her contributions to the community.”?The resolution was authored and passed by state Rep. Art Fierro, D-El Paso.
Fierro said one of his constituents recommended her to his office.
”Miss Davis is in a class by herself. This lady is amazing,” Fierro said. “Eighty-eight?years old and she’s running circles around us with her enthusiasm and her energy. I was just humbled to be in the room with her.”
Davis was born in East Texas in 1932 and moved to El Paso when she was 6 years old. She graduated from?Douglass School, which was El Paso’s segregated school for Black students, before attending barber college in Tyler, Texas. When Davis returned to El Paso, she worked at numerous barbershops across the city before taking over her godfather’s shop. It became a gathering spot for El Paso’s Black community.
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Hair wasn’t the only thing Davis focused on. She’s left husbands behind, and during the 1980s, she started Estine Fashion Models.?
Also, Davis said, one of her?friends, Nelson Sanders, started a lot of the work for the?Miss Black El Paso Pageant. When Sanders became too ill to run it, he handed Davis the reins.?
”It was to help?the girls and give them some money to help (pay)?for?school when their parents didn’t have it,” Davis said. “At least buy the books themselves.”
Davis said she knew what it meant to struggle with financial hardship while at college.?
”I?went to all these colleges around here and I ain’t finished none of them,” Davis said. “Them books costed more than going to school.”
For more than 70 years, Davis has?been an active member of Shiloh Baptist Church, serving in various leadership positions. She also has created a number of floats for the Sun Bowl Parade and co-founded the nonprofit McCall Neighborhood Center in 1983.?
Despite all her accomplishments, Davis said the resolution from the state Legislature doesn’t mean a lot to her.?
”My time has passed, but it might open up eyes for others who are coming behind me and do better,”?Davis?said.
To her son, Michael Davis, the commendation is a big deal?— especially knowing how few Black women owned their own businesses in the early-1960s.
”If there’s anything I could say about that?little feisty woman who’s no taller than five feet two and a half, it’s that she has done things in the?community?over 50 years that many people would never be able to conceive,” said her son, a retired military colonel and president of Davis-Paige Management Systems.?
He?remembers spending a lot of his childhood in the barbershop. Working as a shoe shiner when he was 8 years old until he was 18, he said he remembers American pianist and vocalist?Earl Grant?asking his mother?for him by name.
Michael Davis said he also remembers how his mom would help an alcoholic who was in?the military. Every Saturday, his mother would look for him and help “clean him up.”?
”That was her mandate,” he?said. “She knew she didn’t look down on anyone. Maybe a few will look down on her, but that doesn’t?bother her very much. She was out there to try to do what’s right.”
Davis’?barbershop has weathered many storms, the latest being the COVID-19 pandemic. Davis said five years prior to the pandemic, business was beginning to slow. Now, the pandemic has brought it to a near stop. Davis said she doesn’t know when people will walk through the door, but she’s always ready to cut hair.?
Some customers’ loyalty remains steadfast.
Maurice Nelson said he tries to get his hair cut by?Davis every two weeks. Nelson, who is 71 and retired, also went to Douglass and knew her?family. As Davis reaches over him with scissors and an electric hair clipper, Nelson chats with her about politics and memories of where certain buildings used to be when they were kids.?
Wil Shelton, author of “The Silent Agreement,” a book that explores race equity in corporate America, said?barbers and stylists in Black communities offer a safe haven from daily microaggressions experienced at work and in public spaces.?
Davis said she doesn’t have any plans to retire, adding that she would get into trouble if she were to get lazy.?
”Work?makes you look better and makes you smarter,” she?said.?
Davis works from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.
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And even as the Juneteenth national holiday was signed into law Thursday by President Joe Biden, Davis said she planned on working.?
”If they out there marching, I’m just going to march right in here and cut some hair,” she?said.
Anthony Jackson may be reached at ADJackson@elpasotimes.com and @TonyAnjackson on Twitter.