Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Rex's Hair Salon in Delray. Billie, Karyn, Rex, Billie C and Hazel.

Rex’s Hair Salon in Delray. Billie, Karyn, Rex, Billie C and Hazel.

Rex’s on North Federal Highway is an old-fashioned barber shop/ hair salon.

There’s nothing fancy about its décor or its prices, but it’s an extraordinary place. An absolutely extraordinary place.

It is Delray Beach.

The real Delray.

Monday night, a standing room only crowd gathered in the bar at Fifth Avenue Grill to celebrate Karyn Premock’s retirement after years and years of cutting hair at Rex’s in Delray. It was a celebration of a wonderful person, someone friendly, kind, warm and funny. But it was also a celebration of a small business,  a craft and a community.

One by one, friends (there are no customers or clients at Rex’s just friends) came to the microphone to express their gratitude for having known Karyn and for being part of a very special town.

They shared stories, memories and experiences. Many came to the microphone twice, reluctant to let go of a treasured part of their town.

We talk often about what makes a place great, we strive to create policies and rules that will preserve our “village like” character and that’s all well and good and important too. But the truth of the matter is great places come about because of great people. Karyn, Rex, Hazel, Billie, Billie C and the rest of the cast of characters at Rex’s are great people. They love the people who come through their doors to get their hair cut and colored or to share some gossip while getting a manicure.

There’s a lot of talk about Delray that happens in that small, modest but very vibrant shop. Rumors are discussed and discarded, jokes are told, lives are shared and there are stories galore.

If you want to understand Delray—it’s a requirement to visit Rex’s.

Over the years, Rex’s and especially Karyn began to attract a series of aspiring politicians. If you want to get elected—the story goes—you had best find your way to Karyn’s booth. If she liked you, she would talk you up, get your petitions signed and you would win come Election Day. If she didn’t or if you ignored the power of Rex’s Salon, well Mr. Politician good luck to ya.

The power of that story attracted city commissioners, mayors, state legislators and other wannabe’s over the years.

I was already elected when I went to Karyn.

I went to her out of self-defense.

Everywhere I went in town, I would hear rumors about this or that. When I asked where they were coming from I was told they heard it at Rex’s or from somebody who went to Rex’s. Most of what I was hearing had elements of truth, some were wild stories and some of the information contained great insights. I had to check this place out.

It’s not easy to get an appointment with Karyn. Her appointment book would make a President look lazy.

But I was able to get in and I never left. I was happy she kept me after I was termed out and became one of Delray’s “Pips”, previously important people. We became friends, like she is with everybody who comes to the shop.

The stories told at her retirement party by local legends Gary Eliopoulos, Ernie Simon, Bethesda Hospital CEO Roger Kirk, Fred Bonarde, Lloyd Hasner, Howard Ellingsworth and many many others were simply incredible.

Why? Because getting a haircut at Rex’s is an experience.

Often an exhausting one.

You walk in and it’s like a vortex—jokes, gossip, singing, dancing and lots and lots of talking. Gary joked that it took so long to get his haircut (and he doesn’t have much hair to cut) that it grew back by the time it was over. Ernie said that he went to Karyn for an ego boost (he’s also challenged in the hair department) but she would bring out clippers, make a bunch of noise and make sure that he saw hair on the floor, even if it wasn’t his.

“Karyn is what Delray is all about,” Ernie told the crowd. “Neighbors and friends caring for each other.”

John Miller, a member of a pioneering Delray family, said Karyn has cut his hair since he was 12.

Lloyd Hasner joked about haircuts that went on so long and were so exhausting that he prayed for sweet release—only to come back for more. More laughs, more friendship, more community.

Gary E. talked about how Karyn would cluster her appointments to make sure the person before you and after you were people who didn’t like you. Was it a plan? Or was it her attempt to help people mend fences. Sometimes, if you had a health issue, say a heart problem, she would cluster your appointments around others facing the same concerns. Hmmm…happenstance or was she really a maestro?

As for me, I’ll always remember Karyn coming to my house to cut my hair and Adam Hasner’s after  some hurricane; can’t remember which one. We were tired and hot, but Karyn set up shop in my kitchen so we could get the hair out of our eyes and get back to recovery efforts.

We shared happy stories and sad ones too. We shared a love of dogs; goldens for me, bloodhounds for her. She just lost her beloved Annie and the Rex’s community mourned. We knew Annie.

And we laughed. Laughter was a given.

Rex’s is Delray’s version of “Cheers” somebody said; the place where everybody knows your name.

That’s a village, my friends.

Happy retirement Karyn, we love you and we will miss you.