News: CJ Exclusives

Bill Would Let Only Licensed Barbers Use Barber Poles

Measure would make unauthorized display of barber pole a misdemeanor

As North Carolina lawmakers grapple with closing an estimated $2.4 billion budget deficit, four-term Sen. Doug Berger, D-Franklin, has introduced a bill making it illegal for anyone who is not a registered barber to use or display a barber pole. Berger said he introduced the bill because his barber told him the legislation was needed.

While the barber pole has a long and colorful history dating back to the Middle Ages when barbers also served as dentists and surgeons, an online search has revealed no media reports of the improper or misleading use of barber poles in the Tar Heel State.

Nor could Berger cite any specific instances of a person displaying a barber pole and cutting hair without a license. So why did he introduce Senate Bill 25?

In a phone interview, Berger said his barber, Elbert “Spooky” Oakley of Butner, told him “it’s a problem because [barbers] lose business when people who aren’t barbers use a barber pole to advertise,” Berger said.

S.B. 25, which has been referred to the Committee on Commerce, would make it a Class 3 misdemeanor for any person, corporation, or school to use the striped barber pole as a means of advertisement unless that individual, corporation, or school is registered by the State Board of Barber Examiners.

Oakley told Carolina Journal he’s been a barber for 40 years and is proud of his occupation. “I feel that people who aren’t barbers shouldn’t be using barber poles,” Oakley said. “I see this bill as just the recognition of barbers and the barber pole helps to preserve the name ‘barber’ as something special.”

Most hairstylists don’t do shaves or offer special haircuts like flat tops, Oakley said, but he brushed aside the notion that cosmetologists, who also are regulated and licensed by the state, might feel that barbers are cutting into their business when barbers do haircuts for women.

In a written statement to CJ, Claudia Bingham, attorney for the North Carolina Board of Barber Examiners, said the “barber board is interested in restricting those individual shops and schools using the barber pole to signify a licensed barber and to protect the citizens of N.C. from unfair trade practices.”

Bingham said the board has seen an increase in the number of barber poles being used in shops that are neither barbershops nor barber schools, adding that “one board member mentioned he had seen a barber pole outside of a dog-grooming business.”

The business of regulation

Both the barbering and cosmetology industries already are regulated in North Carolina through two separate state boards. Lynda Elliott, executive director of the North Carolina Board of Cosmetic Art Examiners, said that many cosmetologists are trained to do shaves and other services typically performed by barbers and that the board is concerned about this bill.

Anyone convicted of a Class 3 misdemeanor in North Carolina could face a $200 fine and up to 20 days in jail. Bingham said. The penalty is at the judge’s discretion. To complicate matters, some schools in North Carolina train both barbers and cosmetologists. Elliott said it would be unfortunate for a licensed individual to end up with a criminal record simply for displaying a barber pole.

It takes from one to two years to become a licensed cosmetologist or barber in North Carolina; the cost of an educational program varies from $3,000 to $10,000. Once schools or individuals are licensed, they must complete continuing education courses as prescribed by their respective boards and renew their licenses annually.

Current law, for example, requires individuals to complete 1,528 classroom hours and pass a written and practical exam before being issued an apprentice barber license. To become a registered barber, an individual also must complete a 12-month apprenticeship under the supervision of a registered barber and pass a practical exam.

Barbershops and barber schools are also state regulated, with requirements and fees for licensing, inspections, examinations, education, and continuing education. The inspection fee is $120 for a newly established barbershop and $220 for a newly established barber school. Teachers must be licensed. The examination fee to become a registered apprentice barber is $85, with an additional $85 required for the examination to become a registered barber.

Cosmetologists, aestheticians, hair stylists, manicurists, and cosmetic arts providers under the jurisdiction of the North Carolina Board of Cosmetic Examiners have similar requirements and fees in order to lawfully practice their occupations or operate a salon or school in the Tar Heel state.

When professionals licensed outside of the state move to North Carolina, they must transfer their licenses and pay reciprocity fees.

Shortly after its introduction, S.B. 25 was named the “Bad Bill of the Week” by the Civitas Institute. A press release stated, “regulations, like this one, that do not directly address the health and safety of the public, only raise prices and prohibit competition.”

Karen McMahan is a contributor to Carolina Journal.