Irving Greenberg: A beloved barber and sportsman
By Patra Taylor
Ears perk up at the mere mention of Irving Greenberg’s name. People know him as their favorite barber at Oskar’s Family Barber Shop in South Windemere Center where he’s been a fixture for nearly four decades. Many others remember him for taking them offshore for memorable fishing adventures during his 40-year stint running local charter boats offshore. Throughout the course of both careers, one thing is certain: Irving Greenberg has made a powerful impact on the Charleston community.
Greenberg got his start in barbering in the U.S. Navy in 1963.When he got out, he decided the work suited him and went to barber school. “I went to work on Broad Street for Carl Bunch,” he says. “I worked there for 18 months. Then I went to the Charleston Motel, where I worked for 10 years; and then to the Charleston Inn on Lockwood Boulevard where I was for another 10 years. In 1986, I came here to Oskar’s and I’ve been here ever since.”
Long before he cast his future at Oskar’s, Irving landed a client whose father and mother were at the old Piggly Wiggly on Broad St. Seems the late historian Sam Stoney commented to the parents about the pretty curls on the girl in the shopping cart. The father took the child for a haircut the next morning; it was our very own wretch at age two, and he still goes to Irving.
His patrons leave Greenberg’s barber chair feeling a little bit better about themselves, the result of a good haircut and a listening ear. The barber charges for the haircut, but he listens to his patrons for free.
If you want to keep your finger on the pulse what’s going on in the community … and the world, the barber shop is the place to be. “Everything is fair game,” states Greenberg. “We talk about all the problems in the United States … politics especially. That keeps us going. I have an opinion like everybody else, but I usually just keep my mouth shut listen to other people.”
At Oskar’s, the conversation often circles back around to hunting and fishing. The faded fishing photos on the wall next to Greenberg’s chair serve as a constant reminder of our Lowcountry heritage, a grounding wire in a turbulent world.
“I’m a fisherman at heart,” continues Greenberg. “I was born on Folly Beach in 1943 and lived there until 1954. I started fishing very young. I did a lot of fishing in the surf there with my brothers.”
Like all fishermen, Greenberg has his fish stories. “The first big fish I ever hooked was at Islamorada, Fla. when I was a teenager,” he recalls. “My brother, David and I and another friend, chartered a boat, not expecting to do much. But I hooked a fish! I hooked this fish 19 miles offshore and we lost it 11 hours later, 35 miles north and 50 miles offshore. We never had control over the fish … the fish really had us. We chased him all day and almost into the night and lost him when the leader broke in the last hour. It was devasting. It was 15 years before I caught a marlin. That’s what I always wanted to catch.”
From chartering boats to running charters seemed a natural progression for this passionate fisherman. He also enjoyed surf fishing and jaunts to fly fish for trout in mountain streams. During his many years on the water, he taught many people the joys of fishing, especially many children. The Lowcountry has a creel full of anglers who caught their first fish with Irving, and these days it usually in the surf at Sullivan’s.
“When I came in from a charter one day, I looked around the dock.” Greenberg chuckles at the memory. “I was 60 and everyone else was about 25. That’s when I decided I’d had enough. It’s a tough sport, a lot of hours in the sun in all kinds of weather, but I liked it. I liked it very much.”
Today, Greenberg is content with his barbering. Upon occasion, he goes to patron’s homes or to Bishop Gadsden to cut hair for those who can’t get to Oskar’s anymore. Greenberg says that in the Jewish faith, it’s called a “mitzvah,” which is an individual act of human kindness. He refers to the act simply as a “good thing.”
“I try to do a good thing for someone every day,” he says.
What if we all awoke each day with the intention of doing a “good thing” for someone? Or if as Greenberg, we mastered the art of listening to others with differing opinions without foisting ours upon them? What if everyone we encountered during our day felt a little better about themselves when we parted ways? Could we change the community and the world? Irving Greenberg certainly has.
Greenberg has cut hair for up to four generations of Charlestonians and is planning to stick around for the fifth. “It’s pretty exciting to cut the grandchildren of the people I’ve been cutting hair for years.”
Even though he’ll celebrate his 80th birthday next year, the R-word isn’t in his vocabulary. “I plan to work until I can’t,” he concludes. His patrons are happy to know that.