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Epilogue | William H. "Buddy" West Sr.

William "Buddy" West, pioneer of St. Petersburg's African-American business community

ST. PETERSBURG — William H. "Buddy" West Sr. had a way of getting his teenage son out of bed. He'd wake him before dawn, give him a penny and send him to the corner store for a box of matches.

"He would never do anything with the matches; he used to have a drawer full of them," chuckled William H. West, Jr., 66, of Colorado. "But it got me up."

Mr. West, who died April 30 at 93, mostly taught his son to rise early by example.

For 71 years, Mr. West owned and operated a popular storefront barber shop on 22nd Street S. With steely precision, he always left his Preston Street S home in the darkness to arrive at his shop before daybreak.

In its heyday, when 22nd Street S was known as the Deuces, Mr. West's work days sometimes lasted 15 hours or more.

In between haircuts, the generations of men who walked into Buddy's Barber Shop discussed the political, sports or business events of the day. For a time, Junior was often there, working the shoeshine station.

When he opened up his shop in 1934, Mr. West was among the first blacks to start a business in what was a growing African-American neighborhood, according to the book St. Petersburg's Historic 22nd Street South by Rosalie Peck and Jon Wilson. The bitter realities of Jim Crow life were everywhere, but on 22nd Street, blacks were forging a community.

"He was among the pioneers," said Paul Barco, 92, who owned a grocery store next to West's barber shop for many years, and still lives in the neighborhood.

When Mr. West closed his barber shop in 2005, the Deuces was long gone. It was the end of an era.

Mr. West had learned entrepreneurial skills early on.

Born in Lake City, Mr. West's family moved to Tampa when he was 4. At age 9, he learned to cut hair from his father, Henry West, also a barber, who stood the boy on empty soda boxes so he could reach customers' heads.

After graduating from Middleton High School, he attended Florida A&M University, where he played football for the Rattlers. He left without graduating, then enlisted in the Army, from which he was honorably discharged in 1941 because of bad knees.

He came to St. Petersburg to start a business, and met his wife, Cleo Black. After 49 years of marriage, she died in 1990 at 76. Mr. West is survived by his second wife, Willie Ruth West.

Over the years, Mr. West held jobs as a tailor and a Pinellas school bus driver. He also was a promoter for the legendary Manhattan Casino and other musical venues. He also was the owner of a lathing contracting business. But he always kept a barber's chair.

He died April 30 at St. Anthony's Hospital.

The time was 3 a.m.

Luis Perez can be reached at 727-892-2271 or Lperez@sptimes.com.

>>Biography

William H. "Buddy" West Sr.

Born: Jan. 5, 1916.

Died: April 30, 2009.

Survivors: widow, Willie Ruth; son, William H. West Jr.; sister, Susie West Francis; a grandson; a great-granddaughter; and nieces and nephews.

Service: Today, 11 a.m., McCabe United Methodist Church, 2800 26th Ave. S, St. Petersburg; interment to follow at Royal Palm North Cemetery, 2600 Gandy Blvd. N, St. Petersburg.

William "Buddy" West, pioneer of St. Petersburg's African-American business community 05/08/09 [Last modified: Friday, May 8, 2009 9:49pm]
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