By Roselyn Pickens
MTSU Seigenthaler News Service
On a lazy Wednesday afternoon, barber extraordinaire Tommy Riley stands next to a client, clippers expertly in one hand and comb in the other, turning the chair slowly around to reach all angles of his customer’s head. The sun streams through the front window that reads “Big Tom’s Barber Shop,” but it’s Riley’s smile that lights the room.
Riley, 41, attended barber school in Murfreesboro in 2000 and returned to his native Franklin County as a master barber. His first shop was on the square, then he opened a barber shop with a friend. In 2012 he settled into business for himself opening Big Tom’s Barber Shop on South College Street where he has been snipping and cutting for almost a decade.
Many people in Winchester will tell you that Riley, a tall and big man partial to Liberty overalls, has been there for “forever.” His patrons will also tell you he gives the best haircut in town.
He isn’t just a business owner. He coaches Babe Ruth League baseball, is a father to a teenage son and has a newborn at home. Riley has many responsibilities but said he doesn’t get distracted by his busy schedule. He has a motto: “Don’t threaten me with a good time, because I’ll have it.” Riley chuckled as he said it. For him, that’s what makes life worthwhile, he said, noting he’s happiest when he’s cooking a seafood boil for family and friends or sipping a mint julep on his birthday.
Riley carries his fun into his barber shop where clients rave about the enjoyable conversation. His client’s range from old to young, with hair styles of all types. Although his clients may differ, their opinions are the same. They go to Big Tom’s for the best haircut.
Several years ago, Riley suffered back problems that led to surgery. His recovery demanded he close shop for six months. “The first day I reopened I was booked,” Riley said. The loyalty of his client base makes him smile.
The talk in the shop runs the gamut of human interests. He offers opinions about sports teams with his clients and has a running joke about ice fishing, by which he means sticking his hand in an ice chest for a cool drink. Riley also reminds his customers who are ardent football fans that’s it’s time to switch to baseball. The barber always asks about his clients’ families, remembering the details of their lives. Sometimes his normal voice falls to a hush as he offers concern, or a word of encouragement.
Riley discounts accolades or compliments bestowed on him.
“I don’t do anything special; I just treat everyone the same. Everybody’s important”, Riley said with a smile, again lighting up the room of his barber shop on South College Street.
Roselyn Pickens is one of nine Middle Tennessee State University journalism students who recently spent two and a half weeks in Franklin County writing stories for the Herald Chronicle. More of their work can be found at www.theroadtripclass.com.