Credit Talk of the Town beauty spa and salon owner George Barnes with the understatement of the week.
In final preparation for this weekend's sidewalk picnic celebrating Talk of the Town's 40th year in operation, Barnes was asked about the shop's significance as an industry trendsetter from its inception in 1974.
"Well, we did shake things up a bit, didn't we?" he laughs, knowing full well that a lot of local history is packed behind his statement.
Now a multi-storefront entity at 300-306 South Main, Barnes will be hosting what's being called a Taste of the Town Saturday throughout the day (May 24th). He is hoping to be joined by the cast of regulars and reminescers who know him as "Mr. George" and remember Talk Of The Town as a major cultural marker in the city's history.
These days, a business such as Talk of the Town is termed a "multi-dimensional salon & spa." Long before such entities became commonly known to the African-American public as a place to relax and rejuvenate, Barnes opened the first Talk of the Town – his concept of full-scale service with glamour.
"We started in the Windsor Apartments, remember those? We were unique for many reasons, not the least of which was the fact that Talk of the Town was the first black-owned, fully-integrated beauty salon in Memphis. I had taken advanced courses in several beauty schools and colleges, which certified me to effectively style and care for straight and curly hair and we had a hit on our hands."
A short time later, Barnes' move into the heart of South Memphis turned the local cosmetology industry on its head, pun fully intended. From the corner of Lauderdale and Trigg and long before the rap generation dubbed the surrounding area the "dirty, dirty," Talk of the Town reflected the energy of black freedom and expression that was being shared throughout the nation via movies, music and fashion.
When you walked into Talk of the Town you were swept into a world of African art, Moroccan layering and glamorized waiting that turned the time before your appointment into an adventure in black expression and imagining. The place was beyond cool, totally thought provoking.
And in this day of men with feathered hats and afros, none seemed to dress as flamboyantly, yet tastefully well as Mr. George. Back then he looked like the lost twin brother of Motown artist Nick Ashford, complete with the lion's mane down to his waist. On a daily basis he sported a rock-star look, contributing to a fuller understanding that the city's emerging black culture wanted and deserved something new.
Simultaneously the pulse picked up right next door to the salon, where the still legendary Pisceo's night spot made South Memphis feel like Hollywood even on a Tuesday night. The corner the two businesses shared was right next door to Hi Records, where Al Green and Willie Mitchell were shaking up the music world, and less than a five-minute drive from trailblazing Stax. South Memphis was the place to be and if you wanted to see the latest in hair and fashion Mr. George was the man to see.
There was real technique and talent under the image and that's why Talk of the Town has lasted through the times. Talk of the Town is now downtown, with four storefronts in the South Main district. Barnes wants those who learned how to be cool, felt cool and appreciated cool to come out and celebrate. Because it's simply cool for any black man in this city to celebrate 40 years of his own business.
"More than anything I'm grateful," said Barnes. "Grateful to my mentors at the original Talk of the Town in Chicago that taught me how to combine upper level hair care as a lifestyle enhancement and to the customers and friends that have supported me over the years.
"I just want everyone that comes by to stop and say hello and know that one young man that set out with a dream was able to make it in business in life through hard work and a real care and concern for people and the support of a beautiful community."