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.

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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?”