Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Winds of Change

I do not care for change. I get used to something and then poof! it is different or gone. I am a person of routine, don't mess with my schedule and mess with what I expect. Is that too much to ask?

But, as they preach, change is inevitable. Ok, but I do not want to embrace it or like it..ok? Thus a story.

Being follically challenged in the hair department, I see no need to patronize fancy hair salons. I got a gift certificate for $25 worth of services at Shawn's of Westport. Shawn could not find $25 worth of hair to do, so I traded it for something else. Thus, when I came to Kansas City a few years ago, I was happy to find a little barber shop not too far from me. Old fashioned, nothing fancy, 2 chairs, some old waiting chairs and the daily paper. About it.

$7 for a haircut. WHAT A DEAL!

John Barrera had been in the barber business for 50 years. He bought the tiny shop from someone else in the 50's. As of 2007, the shop has now been in business for over 80 years in the same location at 39th and Southwest Trafficway. I don't think much had phyically changed over the years either.

John was always friendly, not obnoxious, but always ready to greet you, treat you right and give you a great cut. A cut always included a trim of your eyebrows and ears and trim your neck with hot cream and a straight edge razor. He even had an ancient vibrating neck and back massager that he would throw in to finish off. For $7. The clientèle was interesting as well. Rich and poor, old and young... and always a cast of characters hanging around not getting a hair cut, but just shooting the breeze.

I thought I died and went to heaven.

50 years is a long time to do anything. And winds of change were coming. Nichols Lunch restaurant, also in the same location for over 80 years, suddenly closed last year. The owner sold out and sold the building. New owners took over and another restaurant is scheduled to go in the place of Nichols. The new owner kept John in limbo for a while and then finally sat down to negotiate a lease.

I think the change and uncertainty took its toll on the master clipper. Now approaching 80 himself (but looking a lot younger),John decided to hang up his clippers. The time was right. An era was ending; just as I was settling in to enjoy $7 haircuts forever. What was I to do?

All is not lost. John's other barber Bob bought the business and is continuing the tradition. He noted that he was only the 3rd owner in 80 years of business. Sadly, the new owner of the building raised the rent, so now a hair cut is a full $10. Inflation you know. But at least he still uses the little massager thing.

Bob has a lease until 2010, so barring disaster, I will continue to have cheap haircuts for a while. John even is planning to come in on Fridays and some Saturdays for the heck of it.

I hope Bob keeps the name "John's Barbershop". Somethings should never change.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised John stayed in the barber business after 1980! It was that decade that the "company cut" business became ubiquitous (JCPenney, Supercuts, and others I can't remember). After getting out of college in '84, I couldn't find work so I took the time to get a cosmetology license. By then, there was no such thing as a barber license, and 1500 hours of styling and shampooing old blue-haired ladies was your training.

I really wanted to be a barber, but to do so you had to open your own shop. Unless you funded yourself, no bank under Reagan's bad economy (like now, it was a good economy for the top 5% of the wealth-class, but worse for the rest of us) would give you a loan to start a barber shop. That would be like giving someone money today to start a TV repair business. You're told to buy a new one.

So off I went to salon after salon, primarily setting old women's hair. I could work harder than anyone and still only make a measley $3.35/hour. John the barber could still make $14-$21/hour less his overhead. Two years later and no way to break out of the business except to go deeper and stand behind the chair seven days a week, I gave in to one of my many windmill-chasing careers. The best thing I got out of it was meeting one of the many gay men who not only knew hair care inside out, but made me their friend, and I never had so much fun making so little.

There was a place like John's Barber shop in St. Louis nearby where we lived (downtown Florissant), but it was busy from the time it was open till closing. And I mean busy like a conveyor belt — it had no atmosphere, no personality, and they charged $13-$18. When I asked when I could get a haircut and the guy told me he could pencil me in for next Wednesday, nine days later, I gave up and left.

Maybe if we brought back barber shops, today's younger set wouldn't look so fugly with their combinations of Mr.T strips, shaved sides, and pubes for facial hair.