‘If you don’t belong, don’t be long’

Jon Shiflett, owner and operator of Beggars & Thieves mobile barbering unit, poses in an antique chair inside his unit. (Cayla Grace Murphy)

Beggars & Thieves pays it forward for those in need

CULLMAN, Ala. – You’ve likely seen Beggars & Thieves around town. The large black and gold mobile barbering unit, owned and operated by Jon Shiflett, is a decked-out man cave on wheels, featuring sage green boards and batten, a faux fireplace with a large flat screen and sprinkled with vintage pieces that portray a feeling of classic Americana. Men gather not only for cuts and shaves, but also for the sense of fellowship between gentlemen of all walks of life that traditional barbershops have always provided- all for the low cost of $15 cash.

Shiflett said that after nearly a decade in the coal mining industry, he has taken himself out of the rat race of keeping up with the Joneses, which prompted him to keep prices low, and spirits high, when men are in his chair. Yet, even at a lower price point than most of Cullman as far as a quality cut goes, some clients still struggle to pay with the rising cost of living since Beggars & Thieves’ inception in 2021.

When you walk into the unit, amidst the vintage barbering gear and classic decor, you’ll see a tin cup clipped to a rail at Shifflett’s workstation. That cup is stuffed with cash, “probably $500 or so” in his own estimate, to “pay it forward” to clients in need, ensuring that families with multiple kids, men living paycheck to paycheck and those getting back on their feet can still look and feel good about themselves.

Shiflett said the cash cup was started by one of his dedicated clients and has been added to randomly by various other clients. He mentioned the honor he felt to be a steward of the funds and his hesitancy about being spotlighted for “just doing the right thing.” He maintained throughout the interview, “I’m just a blue-collar man. I don’t do this for clout!”

He said, “So many people these days are living paycheck to paycheck, and you never know who needs a little help.”

Shiflett knows that his vision for his shop may not be everyone’s cup of tea. When discussing his regular clientele, Shiflett made sure to note, “EVERY single person is welcome in here. Religious, non-religious, gay, straight, black, white. If you’re chill, I’m chill. It’s a place for everybody.”

Shiflett also took a moment to recognize that the barbershop can be a sacred place for many men, especially these days where mental health struggles seem to be at an all-time high.

“If anyone is having a hard time, come in here and talk. No one is going to look down on you. And if they do, well…” as he pointed to an art piece that declares, “If you don’t belong, don’t be long.”

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