Leo the Barber

Leo was the McColloch Street barber.

His was a single chair shop. Nothing remarkable, but perhaps it’s worth a few minutes to tell how a barbershop worked in the ’60s. Simple things, like how to get a haircut, get forgotten over the years.

Like today, getting a haircut usually started with Mom suddenly declaring, “You need a haircut!” and with that and a few quarters in my pocket, the trip to Leo’s began.

Once you entered Leo’s, there were red vinyl-covered “waiting chairs” on the left with a few stacks of magazines. On the right, a chrome-plated, rather large barber chair and mirrors on the wall. A long leather strop hung from the side of the chair for sharpening the razor. No one ever called for an appointment. Just go in and wait your turn. I don’t think Leo even had a phone.

For the kids, Leo would put a wooden plank on the two arms of the chair, and up you went. With your feet on the seat while sitting on the wooden plank, you were high enough to get your hair cut.

The most memorable part of any trip to Leo’s was when he used “the razor.”

First, Leo would apply a generous application of lather he whipped up in a cup with a brush. Next, he would polish the straight razor on that long leather strop.

“The trick is to start moving the razor first, before placing it on the skin. Otherwise it might cut ya.” Somehow, that didn’t help, but it sure kept me from moving.

Slowly, he would shave around the ears (called “getting whitewalls”) and across the back of the neck.

The same routine about every six weeks.

Finally, as the teenage years approached, I sat down and asked, “Um, Leo, how about no whitewalls this time?”

7 Responses

  1. John Jelacic

    You’re talking about my Uncle Leo, and, yes, my father, brother and I made many trips to his shop on McColloch Street. Before he moved to East Wheeling, he worked in a shop across the street from the old center Wheeling market, before it was torn down to be replaced by the Plaza that now occupies that location. (Tells you how old I am!). Occasionally another uncle of mine would take me to a movie matinee at the Capital Theater just up the street. We would park near Uncle Leo’s shop in a metered parking spot. While we were at the cinema, Uncle Leo would make sure that the time on the meter did not expire by feeding it dimes when it ran down. A small example of the good- heated nature or the man. For an even better example consider that for years Uncle Leo provided haircuts at no charge to the boys at the St. Vincent’s Home in Elm Grove.

    • John Jelacic

      Patty, I just finished reading your book, “Voices from the Alley” and I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed it. Although I did not live in East Wheeling, I regularly visited my Uncle Leo’s barbershop, the subject of this entry.

  2. Fritz Buzzard

    I went to Leo many times, having ‘graduated’ from Jack White’s shop up above Cherry Street. Largest collection of comic books in the First World, hands down, up there.
    Anyway, Leo. His name was Leo Owoc, and, barbarian that I am/was and descended from good German stock referred to him as Leo Oh-walk. Not until my horizons expanded a bit and I met some great Polish folks that I found out his name was pronounced Uh-vitz. (Thanks to Frances, my ex-mother-in-law, may she rest in blessed peace.)

  3. Yam Rutesellar

    Wheeling Barber College on Main Street, Wheeling 1960’s. Maybe about dollar a haircut as I recall.. A long line of barber chairs all filled and being attended to by “future” barbers slowly honing their craft as instructors hovered from chair to chair giving instructions. If an instructor took the clippers off of the student cutting your hair and did some repair work on your head you knew that wasn’t a good thing. Almost always flat-tops with maybe a fence in the front was the style of choice.
    The warm ear foam and straight razor was a new thing for us 13-14 year old boys who always made the trip to town together. Sort of a right of passage.
    All of us Catholic school students, young men freshly and repeatedly drilled of the eternal damnation that awaits us if we should die with “that” Mortal Sin besmirching our soul that most young boys going through puberty fall victim to.
    For those of us who hadn’t been to Confession in the last few days this was a legitimate fear when your imagination took over feeling your nervous, young, novice barber started sliding that gleaming razor up and down your neck.
    And I’m not making this up!!

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