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Northern Kentucky’s Spanky Caudill keeps optimism, excitement alive in his barbershops and in life


By Ginger Dawson
Special to KyForward

Spanky Caudill is a 20th Century man. MID 20th Century man.

Spanky Caudill at work on a classic gentleman’s haircut.

Spanky (Sean, actually) came by his nick-name from a school gym teacher who said he reminded her of Spanky — the precocious character played by George “Spanky” McFarland in the Our Gang movies (later syndicated for TV as The Little Rascals).

Who among us (over the age of 30, I guess) doesn’t remember Spanky, Alfalfa, Darla, Stymie, Froggy and Buckwheat? I still say “Okey-Dokey”!

So, even though he was born in 1986, starting with his nick-name, just about everything about him has the mark of the middle of the 20th Century when everything was a little less 24/7.

Tube radios, rather than megabytes controlled the flow of information.

There was time to savor life, and time to foment curiosity about it.

When some new thing — in music, art, fashion, TV(!), etc..— came on the scene, it was truly NEW.

Today, the excitement of true discovery is not quite the same.

Spanky (far left) with the gang. The namesake framed and on display in the shop.

There is an authenticity lacking in viewing endless scrolls of pictures on Instagram.

Spanky sensed this lack and yearned for a time when there was an optimism and excitement to the new things that added an extra dimension—a creative soul, to everyday life.

He likes mid-century stuff. Furniture, art, advertising — his numerous tattoos are inspired by the popular mid-20th Century tattoo artist, Sailor Jerry.

Even his profession has authentic roots.

Spanky is an old-school barber. He likes a “hands-on” life. By this, he means working creatively with his hands. An office job is not for him. 

Barbering’s rich, long history with its central part in society drew him in and pointed him toward the kind of life that he wanted.

The sandwich board directing you to the Covington location.

In the late 19th and 20th Centuries, in America, the barbershop was a central meeting place where patrons could share news and discuss, or debate, the matters of the day. And, all of the neighborhood gossip circulated there.  It was the “modern” version of the town crier from the preceding centuries. It was an information hub.

And, it was not Facebook.

Spanky also recounted the fact that the barbering profession was one of the few lines of work that survived the pinched economy of the 1930’s, during America’s Great Depression. People still needed to get a haircut, no matter how broke they were. Vanity and social acceptance required it. And, I imagine, a need to find out the latest gossip.

In fact, the barbering profession provided many people with a good solid income until hippies upset the fashion template of polished shoes and a smart haircut.

But, what’s old is new, or at least a blend. Now we see huge, bushy, full beards combined with very manicured, trimmed and pomaded hair.

Somebody has to take care of all of this.

The old fridge keeps the beverages tooth-cracking cold. I love that Wildroot sign. It was my dad’s favorite.

Five years ago, a friend suggested that Spanky open a barbershop in a building that he owned.

This was an intriguing idea. He had been barbering after he had received a Master Barber’s license from the Lexington Academy of Barbering in Lexington and also a license in Cosmetology from Michael’s College of Hair Design in Florence.

He took his friend up on the offer and Spanky & Co. Barber Shop opened at 439 W. 12th. St. in Newport in 2014.

It was an immediate success. Walk-in business was out the door!

It has been such a good thing that a second location was in order. At the beginning of this year, Spanky opened the doors in Covington at 422 W. 6th. St. in Mainstrasse.

As you might expect, the decor at the two shops reflects Spanky’s preference for retro.

The Covington location is loaded with souvenirs from the 1950s. Trophies, a great neon clock, fabulous old pictures and advertisements (consciously framed to reflect an average Joe’s sense of aesthetics—no mats) metal display cabinets, a great old refrigerator which still works (REALLY well) and that essential—an Elvis lamp.

The King watches over all.

The Newport shop has a distinctly Sailor Jerry/skateboarder/racing vibe, but is currently under renovation to transition to the Covington location’s aesthetic.

It is important to Spanky, that in addition to providing a “classic gentleman’s haircut,” the customer also enjoys the experience of the space and taking a trip into the past.

As a result of his interest in retro, naturally, he enjoys collecting and “picking” for the shops and his own home.

It is reported that, among his friends, he has a particular skill for “buying low and selling high.”  This is a valuable skill to have in any business.

Now, Spanky doesn’t just revel in the sentiments and longing for a past era with his barbering and his shops. He has a 21st Century interest in activism and using his skills to help others.

It started when, Spanky, inspired by a fellow stylist, started offering haircuts to the homeless.  His mission was simple—offer to give them a haircut and provide a little conversation.

Entrance to the Newport shop. ‘Quality Cuts From Tradition.’

This experience grew into Barbers Without Borders, established in December of 2017 with friend, Josh Wagner. The organization attempts to provide benefit to people in need, whether by learning a new skill, or the simple uplift of a new haircut for one down on their luck.

Truly being barbers without borders, a trip to Guatemala City, Guatemala, was a particularly memorable event for Spanky. There, he and compatriots partnered with the Shalom Baptist Church to provide haircuts for children, styling for women and to educate individuals about the profession of barbering.

Another successful event that Barbers Without Borders participated in was a fund-raiser for the Movember Foundation, an organization focused on men’s health; specifically prostate and testicular cancer, mental health and suicide prevention.

Spanky and the group hosted a four-hour “cut-a-thon” raising awareness for testicular cancer. Cuts for Nuts raised an $800 donation for the foundation. Love that name — concise and descriptive!

In 2020, there are big plans in the works for Barbers Without Borders.

Working with the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky is being explored, as well as participating in back-to-school events.

Wall of skateboards at the Newport Shop.

Promoting the importance of personal grooming, in addition to pointing students towards the barbering profession as a possible career path is at the center of this initiative.

There is also talk of returning to Guatemala to teach and to open a trade school.

When Spanky isn’t busy with barbering, his non-profit or searching for antiques and collectibles, he likes motorcycles.

As you could probably guess, Harley Davidson, that iconic mid-century bike is, of course, the hog of choice!

Spanky is from Union originally, and graduated from Ryle High School. He currently lives with his wife, Lexi, in Ft. Wright. Marrying Lexi has been his proudest achievement.

Having been a life-long Northern Kentuckian and owning two shops in Covington and Newport, he really likes being a part of the renaissance that is going on in the river cities.

Even though Spanky sometimes feels that he was born about 30 years too late to really feel a part of today’s culture, he has managed to find the authenticity he was searching for.

With all of his good works, it is clear that he has an authentic heart.

The Newport shop — soon to evolve.

Ginger Dawson writes about people — the neighbors you need to know and people you need to meet and understand — for the Northern Kentucky Tribune. If you have ideas for subjects please share them with Ginger at ginger@fuse.net.


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