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Barbershop duet is a 1940s blast from the past

SEMINOLE HEIGHTS - A would-be auto mechanic and a self-professed "jack of all trades," each man took a career turn into an old-fashioned world of hot-towel shaves, scissor clipping and barber chairs. Scott Edward Mattis, 31, and Chris Copeland, 37, are a barbershop duet at the S.E. Mattis at The Heights Barber Shop at 6500 N. Florida Ave. Mattis generally handles the appointments; Copeland the walk-ins. They both talk the talk. "I like talking to people. I've made a lot of friends doing that," said Copeland, who has worked as a chef, restaurant manager, barber and sundry other jobs. On some days, he said, "People come in feeling down. But they feel much better leaving. It's nice to brighten someone's day. Who doesn't feel better after getting a haircut?"
Copeland was once a customer of Mattis, who started as a barber in Ybor City. He opened his own shop first inside King Corona Cigars and later at Agora. "I thought it would be a nice, honest profession for me," said Mattis, who moved to Tampa in 2000, and considered — then quickly rejected — auto mechanic classes at Erwin Technical Center. He would up instead at Sunstate Hair Academy. Family history links him to barber shops. A sepia-toned photograph of his great-great grandfather, William Smith, scissors and customer close at hand, rests on a credenza in The Heights shop. Mattis had an early fascination with barber's artifacts. His collection includes instruction manuals back when barbers were the local surgeons and dentists. He has vintage safety razors, straight razors, shears, clippers, apothecary bottles and a mid-1920s blow dryer owned by Smith. Two of three barbers' chairs in his shop date from 1911 and the 1920s. Copeland has his own vintage collection. A friend created a shadow box filled with safety razor boxes from the 1920s. Kitschy and eclectic defines the shop's décor. Portraits of John Wayne and Elvis stare down, looking freshly picked from a parking lot sale. Record album covers featuring the likes of the Talking Heads, Run DMC, the B-52-s, Molly Hatchett and Chubby Checker spread across ceiling beams and walls. Suitcases in green and red, converted to speakers, are mounted on the walls. An original fallout shelter sign is a newly acquired piece. "We've had our hand in every aspect of the shop," Copeland said. "There's been a lot of spackling, a lot of painting going on." Copeland grew up in Seminole Heights. His ties go way back to the orange groves that bloomed in a neighborhood emerging from pioneer days into an early city suburb. His mother was from Ybor City and his family owned a meat market on Armenia Avenue. In the 1970s, the family operated Spinnaker Lounge on Florida Avenue. "You don't get much more Tampanian," Copeland said. Moving to Seminole Heights was a goal for the partners. "I wanted to be here. All my friends are here," Copeland said. "It's a good place to be." Mattis grew up in Illinois but the move from Ybor made sense. "We kind of needed the neighborhood," he said. Copeland spotted the building on Florida, immediately drawn to the double glass doors and the terrazzo floor inside. It fit the ideal for recreating an old-fashioned barber shop. They specialize in shaves, haircuts and shampoos. Men, children and women are welcome but there are no nails and permanents done. "No chemical service here," Copeland said. Pompadours and fades from the 1940s and 1950s are especially appealing to them but they'll do any style that pleases the customer. Sometimes customers bring in old photographs to show off special hair styles. "We'll try to replicate that on them," Mattis said. For information, call S. E. Mattis at The Heights Barbershop, (813) 919-9718.

ksteele@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7652

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