A haircut and so much more
By Allison Bailey

At Akemon’s, a Main Street Barber Shop, Joe Akemon has cut hair and made music for the last half-century. Joe takes a quick break from a jam session with friends to cut Dr. Robert W. Copelan's hair, just as he does every Friday. This afternoon, Clyde Newcomb (far left) and Charleston "Chilly" Cox have joined Joe to play, watched in the back by Jeannine Walker, Clyde's wife, and Randy Speakes, all of Paris.

The sign beside the door says Akemon's Barber Styles, but that's only one part of the story. Joe Akemon is a barber, gardener and musician who has been in business in the same Main Street location for, as he tells it, “about 50 years."

After entering the shop, customers are immediately greeted by a table full of beautiful ripe tomatoes grown in his extensive backyard garden. Just beyond lies a wall full of guitars and accessories. On the opposite wall are two vintage barber's chairs with Joe's recliner situated in between – and more guitars.

Theoretically, this is a barbershop where Joe teaches guitar lessons. At first glance, though, Akemon's appears to be the opposite: a guitar store where Joe and his wife, Caraline, provide haircuts, shaves and community.

"I have the best job in the world," Joe proudly declares when asked about his work. But he is quick to point out that Caraline is the person who holds the operation together. "I'm not man enough for women's work," he says.

Like many small-town barber shops, Akemon's is a social institution where regulars stop for conversation and a haircut. They may chat about University of Kentucky sports, family and friends, or watch TV between customers with Joe and Caraline. Sometimes, the Akemons have good news to share, recently telling a long-time customer that they have a new grandchild on the way. "It's the people" who make the job enjoyable," Caraline says.

But it's also the music. Joe learned to play guitar as a child from his older brothers and hasn't put it down since. His favorite guitar is a Blue Ridge acoustic 6-string with mother-of-pearl inlay above the frets. But he also plays the banjo, ukulele, bass and mandolin. He spends time between customers playing guitar in his easy chair or, lately, watching videos to learn new guitar restoration techniques.

He is also a regular Main Street attraction when the weather is nice, playing his guitar on the sidewalk in front of the store, much to the enjoyment of those passing by.

What's most striking about Joe is how he encourages others to push their boundaries and brings out hidden qualities that he knows exist. This dynamic is most evident with his guitar students. He takes pride and satisfaction with all his students, especially those who have overcome shyness, self-doubt, stage fright or other obstacles to succeed.

His students regularly play at events around town and the state fair, and a few have become professional musicians. But this quality isn't limited to music. He met Caraline at a church party when he "saw a girl standing in the shadows . . . and asked her to dance." He was wrong about why she was standing to the side, but decades later, that no longer matters.

Akemon's Main Street barber shop, across the street from the new Secretariat Park, boasts a three-story mural of Secretariat.

Three siblings have an evening guitar lesson with Joe: from left, Brayan (16), Marco (13), and Alyssa (8) Sanchez.

Joe gives Brayan instruction on fingering during a lesson.

Joe watches a video on guitar restoration while Caraline changes the bandage on his foot for a burn sustained two weeks earlier.

Cassette tapes and CDs lie stacked on a shelf at Akemon's.

Joe pauses momentarily to watch a guitar video while cutting Collin Reed's (14) hair.

Joe patiently assists Caydence Caskey, 17, who is frustrated by the difficulty of a new technique.

Joe and Caraline enjoy a quiet moment between customers.