The Death of ‘Real’ Barbershops
by Mark Franke
It’s great to be a retired senior citizen. I have plenty of time to spend on my favorite hobby — grousing. Of course the world has descended to perdition during my lifetime. I’ve got a list of things that have been ruined, eliminated or forgotten by the succeeding generations, all in spite of my efforts to counsel against these appalling developments.
Take the barbershop.
Who doesn’t fondly recall those trips to the neighborhood barbershop. As a youngster it was a true father-son bonding experience as you got to sit in a non-air conditioned shopfront listening to grownups solving all the world’s problems.
I fondly remember walking up the hill (at least as much as a hill as could be found in northeastern Indiana) to the barbershop on the next corner. Shorty was his name; I never addressed him as Mr., just Shorty.
Imagine the thrill of being allowed to go there on my own, without my father. But then I discovered that Dad had left specific instructions on what kind of haircut I was to have. I may never forgive him for not letting me get a flat top like the high school boys all had.
After we moved away from my small hometown into the country, Dad would load us boys into the car at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday mornings for our monthly trip into the nearest town. It was first come, first served in those days, so you had to get there early. But I didn’t mind sitting there half the morning, especially because we were allowed to go down the street to the bakery to get donuts while we waited.
So what happened to this essential ingredient of Americana? Two things, as best I can determine.
First is the current fad, at least I hope it is a fad, of closely cropping your hair or even shaving your head. This pernicious habit has become especially popular with Generation X or Y or Z or whatever our time-wasting sociologists have named them. So it is cheap and you can do it yourself at home. (Is saving a few bucks every few weeks all that important?)
The other cause is even worse: the combination barber-stylist hair factories in retail malls. In and out in 15 minutes without the opportunity to argue about anything. No wonder our nation is in such terrible straights. I have stubbornly refused to give in to this horrendous assault on our democracy.
No, give me the small-town barbershop where you know most everyone and you can discuss whatever topic anyone thinks is important. No name-calling, no temper tantrums, just pure philosophy from men who have been around long enough to have all the answers. Just ask us.
But this idyllic scene has all but vanished. When was the last time you saw the traditional barber pole rotating in all its candy-cane splendor?
My barber of 45 years retired this winter. He didn’t sell his business to a young man eager to enter that noble profession. He just kept reducing his hours until he decided to quit altogether. The town where I get my hair cut used to have four barbershops on its main street with six full time barbers. It now has only two shops, and mine is down to two part-time barbers.
My young grandsons will never have this formative experience. Poorer, they. Me, I’ll eventually get over it but only after being distracted by the next cultural travesty. Grousing is so much fun.
Mark Franke, an adjunct scholar of the foundation, is formerly an associate vice chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.