If not a historic building, then certainly a historic institution in Humboldt came crashing down on Wednesday as the home of the original Uptown Barber Shop was demolished. Fear not – the business itself, along with its well-known purveyor of homespun wisdom and baseball lore, and current proprietor, carries on kitty corner and just down the street. But the end of a Humboldt historic business site gives one pause to reflect on the mythos of the small town barbershop.
In any community that had a string of grain elevators, a lumber yard, a butcher shop and other such retail staples, there was always the Main Street anchor of the barber shop. Places not only to get a trim and a close shave, the early shops served as social centres and information distribution hubs for the community. Like a rural Star Chamber, the original Barbershop saw deals cut and town council decisions made (whether they were voted on or not).
For those fortunate enough to have the pool hall in the back, another ubiquitous feature of the small town barbershop, a lot of change exchanged pockets over bank shots that weren’t called.
Some of those shave palaces even produced monumental business empires. Consider the case of Jim Treliving who spent his earliest years in his father’s barbershop on the main corner in Virden, Manitoba. Treliving has credited his father’s work ethic and the homespun values picked up to his success in business. Treliving took a humble pizza dive on Whyte Avenue in Edmonton and reimagined it in the Boston Pizza empire. He carved a niche in Canadian culture as one of the originators of the Canadian edition of Dragon’s Den. From small and humble beginnings.
It was the most likely place for school teachers, missing half their students, to go looking for truant school boys on a Friday afternoon. It was a right of passage for the little kid who no longer had to sit on the booster board to endure the misery of a haircut. The coffee was always on, and likely blacker than the motor oil that had just been extracted from the Ford Merc truck at the garage down the street.
It’s like watching the last of the community grain elevators fall, and in many communities, the timeworn barber shop has long gone the way of those elevators. Fortunately, in Humboldt, the Uptown Barber Shop lives on in a new guise, but still with the spirit of those halcyon days in rural Saskatchewan.
Back to the days when the saying, “Shave and a haircut - two bits” wasn’t folklore. It was the price board.
This is for Brian.