If chairs could talk…TC’s oldest barber shops have no problem filling seats

Unlike the stock market, there hasn't been a downturn or wild rally in business among barber shops in the Traverse City area.

It's a competitive and steady business, with many of the barbers we talked to in the business for more than 30 years.

Their customer base is loyal and long-lasting, as reflected in the snapshots of some of the more well-known barber shops in our area.

Robertson's Hair Center

Masonic Building, 109 S. Union

History:

At same location since 1903

Most famous customers:

Buddy Ebsen, Lyle Waggoner and George Lindsey, who played Goober Pyle

Price for Haircut:

$14

It's Michigan's oldest and smallest barber shop.

Yet, business is bursting at the seams -as it has been since 1903-at Robertson's Hair Center.

And Robertson's isn't alone among traditional barber shops and barbers with long and storied histories in northern Michigan. Business, they report, is stronger than ever.

"I think our customers have a good time when they come here," said owner Roger Argue, who has been at Robertson's 41 years. "We have a great location downtown. Plus, there is a lot of joking and teasing that goes on.

"Most of our business is repeat customers, people we've known for years. They look forward to coming in and we look forward to seeing them. People have asked me when I'm going to retire, but I have no desire to retire. I would miss this place and the people too much."

Argue says that barbers in his shop traditionally take a couple weeks off a year. But the place is so busy six days a week that long vacations are rare. So is the staff at Robertson's.

Roger has worked there 41 years and the three others on his staff-Joe, Greg and Sandy-have been there a combined 83 years.

"We have four chairs and our office is probably the smallest of its kind in the state, 16 feet by 20 feet," said Argue. "But we make it work. In fact, it's part of the charm of the place."

O'Hair Hair Styling

Masonic Building, 109 S. Union

History:

Established in 1987, second floor of the Masonic Building

Most famous customers:

Leonard Nimoy, hockey great Gordie Howe

Price for Haircut:

$16

Just up one flight of stairs from Robertson's is O'Hair, established in 1987. Roger Argue of Robertson's just happens to be Fred Forst's landlord.

"It works well for both of us," said Forst, who has cut hair for 33 years. "My wife and I moved here in 1974 to get out of the rat race downstate. We love it here."

Fred Forst has his own set of loyal customers.

"I prefer people to make appointments to get their hair cuts," he said. "That's especially true in the summer. That way, if it's a beautiful day and I don't have anyone for awhile, I can leave and get a round of golf in."

Forst has two chairs in his barber shop, but he's the only full-time employee.

Plamondon's Barber Shop

709 Randolph St.

History:

There has been a barber shop at the current location since 1920, with a newer building going up

in 1939

Most famous customers:

Gordie Howe, Pat Paulson

Price for Haircut:

$11, with a senior discount ($10) on Wednesday and Thursday

When Paul Plamondon was a middle school student at Immaculate Conception in Traverse City, he used to run down the street to get his hair cut.

Little did he know that when he grew up, he would end up owning that barber shop.

"Owning a barber shop is absolutely wonderful," said Plamondon, who's been cutting hair for 35 years, the last 25 at his Plamondon's Barber Shop on Randolph St. in Traverse City, next to Sleder's.

"Where else can you stand around all day, insult your customers in a good natured way and make a living?" he said, with a laugh.

One of Plamondon's selling points is that they don't take appointments. It's all walk-in business.

"We're pretty traditional here," he said. "We get a good mix of the Traverse City crowd-a lot of physicians from Munson, plus a lot of firefighters and police. We have our regular group of customers, plus we're adding new ones all the time."

Plamondon says the talk around the barber shop is "lively."

"We try and stay away from politics, but pretty much everything else is brought up," he said. "We have three barber's chairs and four barbers, so we rotate. But the thing that keeps this business interesting for me is the customers. They are a lot of fun."

State Street Barber Shop

128 W. State St.

History:

They've been cutting hair at the same location for 51 years

Price for Haircut:

$11, with a sign on the side of the building advertising

$9 specials

The State Street Barber Shop, with the traditional barber's pole out front, is a staple in downtown Traverse City.

"Our clients are grandfathers who have been coming here since they were kids, plus their own kids and grandkids," said Scott McCollum, one of the barbers. He works with Chris Clark, who leases the business, and Don Randall.

"When you're a barber, you have to have the gift of gab," he said. "But you also have to be a good listener."

McCollum takes pride in the traditional straight razor shave he offers.

"It's got everything," he said. "The steamed towels, the straight shave. It's popular here."

The cost for the straight shave treatment?

"Well, I had to call my old barber's school on that one," he said. "They explained that it usually takes as much time as two haircuts. So I charge $22."

McCollum said time passes quickly in a barber shop "because there's always a lot of activity and interesting people. And we take great pride in being kid-friendly," he said.

Jon's Barber Shop

115 W. Madison St., Suttons Bay

History:

Owner Jon Smith bought the

business from the Send brothers.

Most famous customer:

Presidential candidate-to-be

Barry Goldwater in 1963

Price for Haircut:

$12

Where can you go to get a haircut, buy a fishing lure and then purchase your hunting license?

At Jon's Barber Shop in Suttons Bay, of course.

Owner Jon Smith has been cutting hair since 1965, the last 12 at his current spot in downtown Suttons Bay.

"We have a lot of men come in here and a lot of talk is about hunting and fishing," said Smith. "So we decided to take the next step and offer licenses, plus hunting and fishing supplies. That coincided with the salmon and lake trout being planted in this area."

Smith's clients come from the Suttons Bay, Lake Leelanau and Leland areas.

"If you know someone from those areas, chances are they come here to get their haircut," he said. "We've built up a real loyal customer base." BN

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