Getting a tight, tapered haircut with razor-blade detail takes a real barber's touch. It requires precision, and lots of practice.
It’s the kind of professional hairstyle that makes up just part of the curriculum at Williams Barber College, an east-side institution that’s been training barbers for decades and is still going strong.
"It's one of the best-kept secrets in America. It really is,” said the college founder and namesake, Charles Williams. “Because, if a barber is really good at his craft, he can really make some money.”
He should know. He started out as a local barber then bought property and sold retail hair-care products along W.W. White, then launched the barber college in 1993.
Today, he's a barber emeritus, a former chair of the state barber board, and dean of east-side development, owning a cluster of homes and businesses south of Houston Street.
He owns so many properties along the street, the city named it after him.
Tony Gradney has known Williams for decades, as mentor and business coach. Gradney owns Chelsea Catering and considers Williams a role model.
"He's just been a leader in all aspects on the east side,” Gradney said. “They call him the Godfather of the Eastside.”
Williams credits his real estate success, as in hair-care, with having a vision and a work ethic.
“It’s pretty much the same way in business,” he said. “Everybody doesn’t have it, but you gotta have the ability to see things before it happens, and make it happen."
He’s clearly made a lot happen on the east side. In the 60’s, Williams was part of the protest that made cultural change happen in San Antonio.
"I did participate in the lunch counter demonstrations here in SA,” he said. “I participated in the boycott of Joske's as well.”
Williams recently sold his college to another, younger barber with similar visions of entrepreneurship.
"Everybody seems to know him,” said Elon Silas, who bought the college. “Everybody seems to be related to him somehow.”
Silas first entertained a plan to open a barber shop to compete with Williams, then decided to buy the college instead.
"One of the things he's always told me is, ‘follow the money,’” he said.
Now, Williams is a retired renaissance man who can't stop creating. In his garage, he’s working on a ‘55 Chevy hood that will soon double as a desk. It’s part auto restoration, and part office furniture. But Williams says that he believes barbers will always be in demand.
“The future is good,” he said. “I encourage young folk to consider barber college. Not everybody's four-year-college material. And if you're not, you need to get yourself a barber's license and make some money and do some great things."
He's done some great things for the east side, employing some and inspiring others. He’s done it one investment after another. That's why he's another one of the people who make San Antonio great.