COLUMBIA — Adam Prosser gambled and won when he took over Big Four Barber Shop in 2010 and renamed the place Adam's Barbershop.
Things were going well for him, he said, until a fire took nearly everything he had in just one morning.
Adam's Barbershop burned to the ground on April 1, one of several destroyed in the fire at the strip mall on the Business Loop near Garth Avenue. Also lost were Dollar General, Sami Beauty Supply and Hong Kong Restaurant.
“It was kind of breathtaking,” Prosser said. “I just saw and watched. I was transfixed. What do you do?”
Six months later, he owns a new barbershop in southeast Columbia. He opened The Elite Barber Shop, 3601 Buttonwood Drive, on Oct. 20 with his stepbrother Brent Benn.
The shop is filled with 19th-century character — reclining leather chairs, framed mirrors, antique shaving mugs and straight razors. They wear dress shirts, vests and ties, adding to the nostalgic charm of the shop.
Prosser and Benn wanted to distinguish Elite Barber Shop from other shops by offering more than haircuts — they wanted to create an experience for the customer.
They decided to provide services that had disappeared among barbers, including the straight-razor shave.
"It's relaxing to have a hot towel put on your face," Prosser said. "We talk with more formal language and have a positive attitude — trying to make it professional."
When brainstorming ideas for the place, Benn had sent Prosser a picture of a classic-looking barbershop, and a plan was born.
“I wanted something exactly like that,” Prosser said. “I told him I would sell anything I could and with his help, we could pull it off.”
In June, they found a space for their shop on Buttonwood Drive behind the Sonic Drive-In on Nifong Boulevard.
He and Benn worked for months replicating the shelves and barber vanity in the photo, building the furniture themselves.
He said they received help from the entire family — even his grandmother baked cookies and angel food cake.
Before moving to Columbia, Prosser, 31, was in Kansas City working in loss prevention for Dillons grocery stores. He decided there was not a lot of room for career growth in the business and was looking for a way out.
Benn, 33, was studying at the Missouri School of Barbering and Hairstyling in Florissant but had to take a break after an encounter with a brown recluse spider. Prosser had been talking about a move away from Kansas City, and Benn inspired him to attend the same barber school.
Prosser enrolled and moved in with grandparents who lived in Mexico, Mo., making the two-hour commute to St. Louis each day.
Both brothers graduated in 2006. Benn bounced around various barbershops, working part time in Fort Leonard Wood, Jefferson City and Columbia.
Prosser worked at Big Four Barber Shop at 106 Business Loop 70 W. for three years until the landlord wanted to increase the rent and the current tenants objected.
“I was either going to leave Columbia and all of my clients or rent the spot myself and hope for the best,” Prosser said.
He took over the Big Four Barber Shop space in 2010 and renamed it Adam's Barbershop. He found he really enjoyed owning the shop and knew Benn would work with him when he could.
“I was my own boss,” he said. “You can’t beat that. I bought a motorcycle, and I didn’t have a lot of bills.”
Everything turned upside down when he picked up the phone early one morning and one of his customers told him the strip mall was on fire. A man from Carl’s Towing and Recovery had reported the fire around 4:30 a.m., and Prosser was on the scene by 5 a.m.
The three-alarm fire had started at the O'Reilly Auto Parts store. Investigators say they will never be able to determine the cause.
“I know there was a lot of old wiring in the building,” Prosser said. “It was just a matter of time, I think.”
Fire officials estimated $6.5 million in damage and lost inventory. Prosser’s first plan of action was to call his insurance agent.
“I remember it was April Fools' Day,” he said. “My agent thought I was playing a joke.”
He found the first month difficult after the fire, he said. Business decisions and financial issues were still unsettled.
“Truthfully, I should have had better insurance,” he said. “You know you always want the cheapest rates, but you never really look into what you’re getting.”
He said he lost more than just his business that day — he lost a prized crappie he had mounted on the wall.
“It meant a lot to me. I caught it in the flood of ’93 with my dad and grandfather."
Gradually, clients are hearing that Prosser is back at work. Benn owns a barbershop in Fulton where he lives but is still dedicated to the project with Prosser.
“It’s my baby, too,” Benn said. “I just have to find more time to get to Columbia.”
Customer Jeff VanCleaver has remained loyal through the transition and said he has noticed the professional change.
"He goes the extra mile," VanCleaver said. "I like the new look, and you don't ever see anyone cutting hair in a suit. He looks sharp."
Though the fire caused an abrupt end to Adam’s Barbershop, Prosser believes he turned devastation into innovation. But he still misses the old place.
“It’s like your first car,” he said. “I don’t have it anymore, but when I think back to it and I have a lot of good memories and so I kind of miss it.”