(FROM MAYOR ELLEN GLASSER FOR ATLANTIC BEACH LIVING MAGAZINE, AUGUST 2021)
Small, independent businesses are the lifeblood of a dynamic and equitable economy, and they otherwise enhance the quality of life in our community and country by bringing people closer together. While we salute them all, we set out to identify the oldest continually serving businesses in Atlantic Beach
The research is in and the apparent “winners” are (in alphabetical order) Bob’s Barbershop and the Voo-Swar Restaurant & Lounge. Both have been serving our residents for more than 60 years – and both have fascinating histories.
In July, I was proud to show the City’s appreciation to those businesses’ commitment to our community via mayoral proclamations.
Bob Thompson left West Virginia in 1960 to attend barber school in Jacksonville and began cutting hair for a living at the age of 18. He purchased his employer’s business in 1964, and it became known as Bob’s Barber Shop. At that time, it was just Bop and Affie Pearce at the chairs; and from 1966 to 1986, Mr. Thompson worked alone. Bob has made thousands of friends at his Barber Shop over the years, and has served generations of customers, including two families representing five generations. Bob also serves the community by generously supporting Fletcher sports and the Fraternal Order of Police; and by visiting the homes of customers and cutting their hair when they are sick.
Today, at age 79, Bob cuts hair part-time and is spending the extra time with his beloved wife, Delores, his children, and his grandchildren.
Earnest Davis, born in 1931 at home in Jacksonville Beach, was raised in the Atlantic Beach neighborhood known then as “The Woods”. “Mr. E,” as he would become affectionately known, worked odd jobs growing up, and in the 1950s began creating a restaurant and lounge – largely with his barely hands – that in 1963 became the Voo-Swar. (“Voo-Swar” is a derivation of an Old French word, “vosoir”, later “voissoir” – the final stone in an archway.
Over time at the Voo-Swar, Mr. Davis fulfilled his vision of creating a place where all people were welcome, and black Navy sailors that were discriminated against could go to as a home away from home. Quite fittingly, the soft-spoken storyteller who delighted and inspired countless people with his conversation, kindness and hospitality was honored in the twilight of his life by the Beaches Museum and with a Martin Luther King, Jr., Community Service Award.
Mr. Davis passed away in 2019 and today, the Voo-Swar continues to operate – even thrive – under the ownership of one of Mr. Davis’ children, Lewis Washington.