By KEVIN CHIRISlidell news bureau
SLIDELL — Three Slidell men are setting a great example for others when it comes to the phrase “paying it forward.”Rev. Tommy Populus, his son Reggie Populus and Pastor Lawrence Weathersby are now intertwined in a way none of them could have imagined.But the example set by the three is one for others to follow, since it has been all about doing the right thing in life, and always being ready to help others.The connection between the three men completed its circle this past week when Weathersby, pastor of Living the Word International church in Slidell, offered Reggie Populus a free room at the church to set up his business, Reggie’s First Class Barber Shop, after a fire completely destroyed the business last Friday, Oct. 14.
Populus began cutting hair at the age of 14 and slowly built a very successful Slidell barber shop that employed five barbers. After renting out space for his shop since 1990, Populus finally saved enough money to buy land, and build his own barber shop on Carnation Street, that opened in 2006.
“That was my dream,” Populus said. “From the time I began seeing my business slowly grow, I always thought about one day having a piece of land where I could build a shop. And finally we did it a few years ago.”
But almost two weeks ago, that dream went up in flames when Populus was called during the middle of the night, and told the building was on fire. The cause is still undetermined.
“It was a total loss,” he said. “I was so worried about what I would do that I was driving around at 2 and 3 that morning, looking in Slidell for a place I could rent. We had built a very good clientele, but if you can’t cut their hair for a month or so, many of them will find someone else and might not ever come back.”
However, Populus was taught as a young boy that life pays you back, as long as you do the right thing.
“My dad and mom are the reason I was successful. They taught me all during my life at home—it was almost a daily thing—to do what was right, and focus on the right path in life,” he said.
Populus carried that teaching into his business, and the barber shop was a mentoring place for young boys and men who frequented there. So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when Weathersby heard about the tragedy, and stepped forward to help.
The pastor of the 800-member Living the Word church, located in the former Factory Outlet Stores off Old Spanish Trail, immediately called Populus on Friday and said he had a place for them to set up the shop. It was right in the church and they could use it for free as long as they needed.
“When he called and told me that, I was so overwhelmed by the offer, I broke down,” Populus said. “I guess it is a little about the way we always tried to help others, and give guys free cuts if they were short. We’ve always tried to mentor these young guys and get them on the right path, like we were taught. I see it all coming back when we needed some help.”
Weathersby is actually one of the clients who go to Reggie’s Barber Shop, so he was getting rapid-fire texts early Friday, with the news the shop was destroyed.
“As soon as I heard what happened, I knew we had a room for our children’s church that could be converted to a barber shop for them. It was a no-brainer,” he said. “Our mission here is that God has blessed us to be a blessing. We consider ourselves a community church, and our ministry has to be more than within these four walls.
“We live to do our best as God’s instruments, so this was seen as an opportunity to bless someone,” he added.
Not only is the room on one side of the main church building, with a door coming right in, but it even had mirrors already set across one long wall—a perfect setup for the barber shop.
Populus said he began cutting hair at the age of 14 when his friends were trying to do it for each other, and he turned out to be the one with all the talent.
“We would cut each others hair, but I kept saying ‘hey, let me do it. I think I can do it a little better.’ I think hair cutting is actually an art, and I’m kind of an artist in a few other ways—playing music and drawing,” he said.
Populus started cutting hair for a few dollars and his clientele began to grow. When he started going to Slidell High, he got a 1975 Monte Carlo and began to make house calls.
“People started calling me Beeper Cut, because all we had then was beepers, but that was my way to know someone needed a haircut,” he said. “I still have people reminding me about showing up in that ’75 Monte Carlo.”
Populus finished high school and went to barber school, then opened his first shop in the Huntwyck Village Shopping Center in 1990. From the start, the lessons he learned from his mother and father were guiding all he did.
“I always felt like I wanted to have a first class place, where we make people feel good about coming in,” he said. “That came from my parents. They were always talking to me about doing right, and being a good influence on others, so I never did any of that stuff that gets young kids in trouble.”
He even built that philosophy into the business name, starting with Reggie’s Barber Shop, then changing to Reggie’s First Class Barber Shop. Today, he employs four other barbers in his shop, and all five try to set an example for the young teens and young men who come in.
“We teach these kids to be positive, believe in yourself, and for sure to have a spiritual connection,” Populus said. “We’ve got a real unity with our barbers here and I think people feel that when they come in.”
Fortunately, Populus had insurance on his building, but it will still be hard replacing some of his equipment. Over the years he had purchased antique barber chairs for his first shop, and when he opened, had accumulated five antique chairs that were refurbished and placed into work again.
He also built his building to be a duplex office space, allowing him to rent out one half. His plans are to rebuild as soon as possible, but he is uncertain how long that will take. For now, he hopes all his clients will come find him off Old Spanish Trail in the former Factory Outlet mall, next to the church.
Populus and his wife of 20 years, Tonya, have two children.