Cutting the Years: Is the Barber Shop a Thing of the Past?

By: Mary Rinzel with Photographer Duane Wolter Email
By: Mary Rinzel with Photographer Duane Wolter Email

It's a mainstay on Main Street in several small towns, but it's one that could soon become fewer and farther between: the local barber shop.

The barbers we talked to described their craft as a “dying art.” But, it's also a skill they hope to save.

"Someday, you'll be the old barber, Jason," Harry Bossany says with a smile, taking a seat for his Christmas haircut Monday afternoon.

It's an unlikely spot for the life-long barber who’s been trimming tresses in Chetek for 46 years. But, it’s a cherished position for the shop's only other barber—29-year-old Jason Erickson.

"When I graduated I was the second guy to graduate from WITC in Rice Lake," Erickson says.

Erickson graduated five years ago as the only guy in his class of 16. Forty-seven years ago, Bossany graduated in Chicago with approximately 60 other students—all men.

"There used to be three or four barber shops in Chetek. Now there's one," Bossany says.

Over the years, Bossany has seen a lot of things change in his barber shop; the walls still covered with signs of the past.

"The price for one thing,” he says. “Now, it's appointments. We never had appointments before. They'd come in here just to shoot the breeze. They didn't even want a haircut! It's not that way anymore. Everyone's in a rush today."

It's that olden day feel that inspired Erickson to seek out jobs in three small town barber shops, picking up a couple shifts a week at each one.

"Everything in life is so fast. Everyone is going about. To find a career or profession you can be happy with, you get self-gratitude out of it for making other people feel good about themselves," Erickson says while getting his fill of the small town chit-chat that comes with a simple cut and the knowledge that he's doing his part to preserve his craft.

"If it wasn't for guys like Jason, there would be no more barber shops," Bossany says.

"I think it can survive,” Erickson says. “Any small town should have a barber shop. It's part of the history to it."

According to the U.S Department of Labor, in 2006 there were 617,000 licensed hair stylists and cosmetologists. There were 60,000 licensed barbers.

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  • by ICEManCometh Location: Eau Claire on Dec 29, 2008 at 08:26 PM
    Once you have appointments, you're no longer a barbershop; you're a hair salon.
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