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Chester County Press

‘Bill the Barber’ Celebrates 50 Years in Oxford

08/27/2020 12:07PM ● By Steven Hoffman
Bill Bilger had a decision to make.
After completing the training to become a licensed barber, he had been working for other barbers for more than five years. Now, he wanted to have his own barbershop, but where would that be?
One opportunity that Bilger was considering was in Wellsboro, Pa., a small borough in Tioga County. The other option that he was considering was a barbershop in Oxford—about as far as a person can get from Wellsboro while still staying in Pennsylvania. 

Bill and his wife Carrie couldn’t decide between the two opportunities. So he decided that he would flip a coin. When the coin landed in Oxford’s favor, the decision was made.
“I guess it was meant to be,” Bill said during an interview last week. “I’ve been happy here.”
Bilger will mark his 50th anniversary in Oxford during the first week in September—an impressive milestone for any business. During those 50 years, Bilger has earned a moniker that a lot of his customers know him by. “Bill the barber—that’s what they call me,” he said with a laugh.

For people like Matt Elberson, Bill the barber is the only one to turn to for a good haircut and some friendly conversation. On a recent summer afternoon, Elberson was in Bill Bilger’s barbershop at 107 South Third Street in Oxford. He has been coming here for 16 years, and he was happy to talk about why he thinks Bilger’s old-fashioned barbershop has succeeded for half a century. “This is the best place to get your hair cut in Chester County,” Elberson said. “I won’t get my hair cut anywhere else.” With his good-humored personality and experience, it’s easy to understand the foundation that he has built his business on for all these years. Bill said that it’s always important to give a customer a good haircut and then to also treat each person with respect. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the President of the United States or a trash collector—Bill maintains that he treats everyone fairly—and equally.

“When they come through the door, they are all the same to me,” he explained. “They are all important in their own way so I treat them all the same.”
Bilger, who grew up in Bucks County, explained how he decided to become a barber in the first place.  “I was out of high school and decided I wanted to take up a trade,” he said. One day, he went to a local barber to get his hair trimmed. The barber who was cutting his hair that day told him, ‘The barber business has been good to me. You should think about it.’” He went home and talked to his parents. Soon, he was being trained as a barber at the Tri-City Barber School.

Once he was licensed, he worked for a few other barbers as he learned his trade. Then, with the help of a flip of the coin, he made the most important decision of his professional life—he decided to pursue the opportunity to own a barbershop in Oxford. Bilger recalled that he had some friends who resided in or nearby Oxford, and he had been hunting and fishing in the area a few times. There were six or seven other barbershops in town back then, so there was no guarantee that the new guy could even make the cut. But he was skilled at his craft, he was friendly, and he was willing to work the long hours necessary to run his own business.

Early in his career, Bilger said, he got some good advice about running a barbershop. It starts with the most important thing: Do a good job of cutting hair. Another helpful tip is to always be cleaning when you’re not clipping because cleanliness is very important in this line of work. Another tip that he found helpful is to try to be visible to the community if you’re not cutting hair. That way, people know that the barbershop is open and that appointments are available.
For the first 24 years in Oxford, Bill's barbershop was located at 37 South Third Street. He moved to the location at 107 South Third Street 26 years ago. He said that he liked both those locations, and is really thankful that he ended up opening his barbershop in Oxford all those years ago.
“I really just wanted a barbershop that families could come to,” he said.

Bill and his wife live in Bartville, Pa. in Lancaster County—about nine miles from the shop in Oxford. He said that owning a barbershop provided a good life for he and his wife while they raised their daughter, Lisa. He still looks forward to coming to work every day.
When asked what he likes best about his job, he replied, “Just one thing? I like everything about it.”

Certainly one of the favorite aspects of the job for Bilger is the conversations with people in the shop. He likes to talk about hunting, fishing, or anything else that his clients are interested in talking about. He does try to avoid politics as a topic of conversation, but other than that the conversations in the barbershop can go off in many different directions.
“I get along well with my customers,” he said. “We discuss all kinds of things.”
Some of Bill the Barber’s customers have been getting their hair cut in this barbershop for decades. He considers a lot of his customers to be friends.

Bilger has seen a lot of hairstyle trends come and go during his time in the business. He has met many people. Still, he is quick to point out that even though he knows 50 years has passed since he came to Oxford “It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long for me.”
Because he has liked the work environment so much, he doesn’t have any plans to stop cutting hair. “I’m going to tell you something about barbers,” he said. “They will stay in the profession for as long as anyone.”

One example is Jack Winchester, one of the barbers who worked for Bilger, who kept cutting hair until he was 72. Bill the barber said that he is perfectly happy with his career and his life.

“If I had it to do over again, I would do the same thing. I have no regrets at all,” he said. 

Bill Bilger’s barbershop is open each Wednesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Appointments are also available.
The telephone number is 610-932-4120.