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Four years later, ‘down-to-earth’ president still this barber’s top customer

Barber Antonio Coye (L) barber A C Chandler  tending Wayne Davis's haircut Hyde Park Hair Sallisten watch President Barack

Barber Antonio Coye (L) and barber A C Chandler, tending to Wayne Davis's haircut at the Hyde Park Hair Salon, listen and watch President Barack Obama give his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention Thursday night September 6, 2012. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 9, 2012 2:58PM

The sound of slicing scissors and buzz of the electric clippers fell mostly silent at the South Side barber shop Thursday night when perhaps its most famous customer, President Barack Obama, made his primetime television appearance to accept the Democratic party’s nomination.


When Obama addressed his daughters, Sasha and Malia in a not-so-joking manner “yes, you have to go to school tomorrow” a few of the barbers in the Hyde Park Hair Salon laughed and said “OK!?”

There was a bit of deja vu in it all.

In August 2008, the Sun-Times was on hand at the Hyde Park Hair Salon when a hush fell over the shop as neighborhood guy and then-U.S. Sen Obama appeared on the two big screen televisions and accepted the party’s nomination at the Democratic National Convention, bringing him another step closer to becoming the first African American U.S. president.

Back then a barber named Zariff — “just Zariff” — proudly looked on at his cherished client of more than a dozen years, a customer whose “Obama cut” would most certainly makeZariff, his co-workers and the salon itself a lot better off than it was four years ago.

On Thursday, Zariff said before Obama even took the stage that the president was ready in every possible way to accept the nomination and lead the country another four years.

“He looks good. I prepared him for tonight,” Zariff said with a smile, referring to freshening up that signature closely-cropped “Obama cut” that has drawn visitors from Russia, Iceland and Africa to the shop seeking the same look.

“A lot of people in these political positions are affluent and out of reach for a lot of people, but Barack was a neighborhood guy so people come in here to make a connection with him.”

These days Zariff travels to his client of 18 years, not the other way around.

“It looks better than on the History Channel,” he said of the White House. “And he’s still the same person, the same down-to-earth guy. We talk about life, about family.”

And current events?

“And current events,” including the president’s goal in the next four years to continue working on a fix to the country’s economic.

Obama has confided he misses coming to the shop near 53rd and Blackstone on Sunday mornings and chatting about sports. But security and geographic constraints make that impossible right now.

Indeed, other barbers at the shop say the president has been busy in Washington D.C. these last four years, and they don’t begrudge him his infrequent visits back home. When Obama won the nomination in 2008, those inside the shop and beyond knew there were serious issues but didn’t know exactly what was ahead:

The passage of a controversial affordable healthcare law. An order to kill Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. And grappling with a still struggling economy.

“He got rid of [Osama] bin Laden,” said Wayne Davis, who shines shoes at the shop who has cleaned and buffed Obama’s kicks a few times — before he was president. “And got a lot done — a lot if you look at how hard the Republicans were trying to veto his work.”

Antonio Coye, a barber whose brother runs the salon, was at the shop in 2008 when Obama made his pitch to the country at the Democratic National Convention. Some 50 customers and supporters streamed in and out that night, but by the time Obama took the stage this Thursday night just a handful of customers and barbers watched the televised speech.

“There are a lot of people at convention parties tonight,” Coye said.

Otherwise, they might have stopped in.

Though one barber pointed out that while most people who walk through the door at the Hyde Park salon give Obama the thumbs up, the approval rating among customers isn’t quite 100 percent.

A.C. Chandler can recall one customer coming in looking for a presidential debate of sorts about a year ago.

“He was from Louisville, Kentucky, and it was clear he was a Republican. He was [saying] ‘so this is the president’s shop huh?’ and ‘The Obama cut, what’s the big deal?” Chandler recalled. “He was trying to throw salt” and criticized the president’s policies. “We set him straight. We told things aren’t great in Kentucky. They’ve got problems. He kind of ceased his fire.”

Ever see him again?

“We haven’t seen him since.”

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