Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Right out of Mayberry: Main Street Barber in Montgomery April 7, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:19 AM
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Steve Pan's barbershop in downtown Montgomery.

Steve Pan’s barbershop in downtown Montgomery, Minnesota.

I COULD HAVE BEEN WALKING into Floyd’s Barbershop in Mayberry on this first Saturday morning in April.

Same thing, according to the two customers at Main Street Barber, 106 First Street South, in Montgomery.

The old bakery cash register Steve got for his barbershop.

The old bakery cash register Steve got for his barbershop.

Barber Steve Pan agrees, as I note two Norman Rockwell paintings posted above a vintage cash register claimed from Franke’s Bakery down the street.

Above the bank of mirrors on the north side are vintage signs printed at Bohemian Club Beer.

Above the bank of mirrors on the north side are vintage signs endorsing Bohemian Club Beer. The signs were printed at the defunct Montgomery Brewing Company, which made the Bohemian beer.

Main Street Barber is about as rural Minnesota, Norman Rockwell Americana, small-town barbershop as you’ll find right down to chairs backed against the wall, trophy fish, a stand alone stove, an aged bottle of thick-as-tar “Auxiliator for the hair,” walls of mirrors, and barber chairs that hearken to the early 1900s.

Vintage chairs await customers.

Vintage chairs await customers.

Steve caught the walleye at Lake Gorman, the Northern at Red Lake.

Steve caught the walleye at Lake Gorman, the Northern at Red Lake.

This free standing stove heats the small barbershop.

This free standing stove heats the small barbershop.

An aged bottle of "auxiliator for the hair."

An aged bottle of “auxiliator for the hair.”

Looking toward the front of the barbershop and the window overlooking Main Street.

Looking toward the front of the barbershop and the window overlooking Main Street. I tested the chair in the foreground, per Bill’s urging.

I wonder, as customer Bill Becker urges me to try out a barber chair, how many hands have rested upon the arms of the chair, how many stories have been swapped here, how much hair has fallen upon this floor.

Bill guesses thousands of hands and I expect he would be right.

Steve gives Bill a flattop.

Steve gives Bill a flattop.

On this Saturday, 61-year-old Bill briefly serenades us with a verse from Marshall Tucker’s “A New Life” album while Steve sculpts his hair into a flattop. Bill remembers aloud, too, where he was when President John F. Kennedy and George Wallace and John Lennon were shot. I’m uncertain how we got on that topic because I’ve been distracted by photographing the historic charm of this place.

Tools of the trade and Steve's appointment book.

Tools of the trade and Steve’s appointment book.

Steve’s been barbering here since 1986, when he took over for Phil, who retired. “The opportunity was here…we’ll give it a shot back in the old hometown,” Steve recalls of his return to Montgomery from cutting hair in Hopkins. He’s the only barber in town now; the other two died.

Steve works on Bill's flattop.

Steve works on Bill’s flattop.

Nearly 30 years later, the hometown boy come home is still cutting hair…

Steve's scissors.

Steve’s scissors.

Bill jokes that he would have worn his wing tips had he known I would be photographing his feet.

Bill jokes that he would have worn his wing tips had he known I would be photographing his feet.

Hooks for caps hang by the vintage signs.

Hooks for caps hang by the vintage signs.

A Czech emblem, a nod to Steve's heritage and that of most folks living in Montgomery.

A Czech emblem, a nod to Steve’s heritage and that of most folks living in Montgomery.

More of those delightful old signs...and a reflection of me photographing them.

More of those delightful old signs…and a reflection of me photographing them and Steve shaping Bill’s flattop.

Family photos at Steve's work station.

A collage of photos and signage on the mirror above Steve’s work station.

Propped inside the entry.

Hung inside the entry.

PLEASE RETRUN FOR MORE stories and photos from Montgomery. Also, check my March 4 – 8 archives for a series of previous posts from this southern Minnesota community.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

20 Responses to “Right out of Mayberry: Main Street Barber in Montgomery”

  1. Great Post – loving your captures!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      You can only imagine my excitement when I spotted this barbershop, walked inside and discovered all of this to photograph. I could easily have spent more time here chatting with Steve and Bill and the customer after Bill, who didn’t want his photo taken. Drat.

      • There are few places like this that exist as well as being used still! I remember going to the Barber with my dad and brother and it was like a boy’s club in there; men just shooting the (BS). My fav photo is of the broom:)

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        I expect if I would have hung around for the afternoon, I would have heard plenty of BS. When my husband used to go to the barber in Faribault, I’d always ask him upon his return home about any news he’d heard. Now I buzz what little hair he has off his head. Kind of miss that barbershop news.

      • Another great thing about small towns the gossip/rumor mill – ha!

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        Yes, true. Do you think everyone in Montgomery knows about me being in town by now? They were such friendly people, every single one we met.

  2. Jackie Says:

    My oldest son goes to a place in the twin cities that is similar…he loves the old fashion kind of hair cutting place. There’s not many of them around anymore that’s for sure. Love the old barber chairs, you dont see them around anymore!

  3. Allan Landman Says:

    I love the old “clip joints”. My Dad would take me in to get pruned whenever they could catch me. The Clipper Skipper, had potted Ferns the size of Elm Trees! He claimed he used the “used hair” in the pots for fertilizer. My hair today is “waving goodbye”. Now, please get some photos of cars, new, old, beat-up or plain ugly! I miss your Automobile photos. I know that Summer is more Car Time, but I need to see cars. Let’s all Pray for Spring!!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I’ll watch for old cars then, Allan. As you know, most Minnesotans keep theirs tucked away for the winter.

  4. treadlemusic Says:

    A while back, on one of our So. Dak. forays, DH wandered in to such a place and noted the line of chairs against the wall….all occupied!!! When he asked how long it would be before he could get a trim, the gent with the scissors said….”Oh, no wait! They’re just here to pass the time!” And so it used to be…..where have those days gone? Thanks for the memories……

  5. Clyde of Mankato Says:

    For many years in Two Harbors my best friend and hiking buddy was such a barber in such a barber shop.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Oh, and I bet the stories he could tell about the stories he heard while barbering.

      • Clyde of Mankato Says:

        I should blog about him; 1) he did not often listen to what was said around him. 2) when he did he pretty much told people off for their inhumanity and insensitivity.

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        Interesting that he would tell people off. But good that he did if they deserved it because of their inhumanity and insensitivity. Hopefully he expressed his opinion in a way that commanded respect rather than making customers angry. Yes, you need to write about your barber friend.

  6. Almost Iowa Says:

    My uncle, Bill Ryan, sported a flat-top haircut since the day he turned twelve. In his last week, as he lay dying of cancer in a bed in his living room, his sons and their sons marched down to his barber and in a tribute to Bill, all received his trademark haircut.

    This was on a Sunday after mass and Bill’s barber opened his shop for the occasion.

    Barber shops and beauty shops are about more than hair, they are about us.

    • I am on the verge of tears with this story. What love those sons and grandsons held for Bill Ryan.

      You summarize well the meaning of beauty shops and barbershops: “They are about us.”

      • Almost Iowa Says:

        Bill’s was an amazing story. The man was a very successful lawyer but a raging alcoholic. I had a paper route in a rather nasty neighborhood and found him passed out behind a bar a number of times.

        In the late 1970’s, one of his daughters got married. His wedding gift to her was sobriety. He never took another drink.

        He was loved so much because he overcame so much.

      • Goosebumps here. That makes Bill’s story even more remarkable. What a gift he gave to his daughter, and to his family. Thank you for sharing this touching story.


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