In small towns in the early 20th century, small businesses ruled local economies. Like today, starting a new business at that time was a difficult endeavor. But if they were able to last for decades, they would become almost as much cultural icons as they were businesses. The same was true in Siloam Springs. For several decades after 1909, a resident of Siloam could scarcely imagine Broadway Street without Rapps’ Barber Shop. This week’s featured photo shows the inside of the shop around 1920.
According to a 1959 article in a local newspaper, Rapp’s Barber Shop opened in December of 1909, and another source indicates that the shop remained open until 1966. The shop was located at 108 N Broadway Street, the present day location of Pure Joy Ice Cream.*
Rapps’ Barber Shop was run by two brothers, Al and Ed Rapp. The Rapp brothers moved to Siloam Springs in 1908 and promptly opened their own small barber shop. After only a year of business, they were able to move the shop to a larger location next door. According to the brothers, in the shop’s early years, many men came to them for a shave three to four times per week. The preferred style at the time was a well-groomed mustache, which required careful and skilled maintenance. However, when the safety razor gained popularity years later for its ease and price, men began to shave their own faces cleanly, rather than keeping their mustaches. Thus, in the shop’s later years, the brothers’ business shifted mostly to cutting men’s hair, and later women’s hair as well.
Rapp’s Barber Shop was a staple of downtown Siloam Springs for nearly sixty years. This longevity is not entirely uncommon for barber shops in Siloam. As early as the last decade of the 19th century, there was a barber shop located in the first floor of the Morris Hotel at the southwest corner of St. John and St. Nicholas Streets (in 1947, the names were changed to University and Broadway, respectively). In 1900, Walter Cox bought the shop on the north side of the Morris Hotel building and opened his own. After twenty-five years in business, Cox received a customer named H. B. McLaughlin. During this haircut, McLaughlin revealed to Cox that he had just finished barber school in Tulsa. Cox hired McLaughlin, also called Mac, to lighten his load around the shop. Mac worked for Cox for another nine years before buying the barber shop outright, changing the name to Mac’s Barber shop in 1934. Around this time, the Morris Hotel became the Youree Hotel, and in another thirteen years the names of the downtown streets would change as well. As the town changed around him, Mac cut hair in this location just up the street from the Rapps for nearly 40 years until shortly after the 1970 Youree Hotel fire.
After the fire, Mac sold the shop which continued under the name City Barber Shop after moving to the northeast corner of the building. It remains open today under the same name.
As the landscape of downtown Siloam Springs changed, Rapps’ Barber Shop and Mac’s Barber Shop remained staples of the area, becoming cultural icons in the small town. Today, Siloam Springs is enjoying a resurgence of the prominence of small businesses, and City Barber Shop carries on, enjoying the honor of being the oldest barber shop in Arkansas.
*The exact location of Rapps' Barber Shop was found thanks to your comments on our Facebook page. Thank you for your help in making this story as accurate as possible!
Written by Chuck McClary using information from the Siloam Springs Museum archives.
Unless otherwise stated, photos are provided by the Siloam Springs Museum and its archives.