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That No-Frills Haircut Is Getting Harder to Locate

December 23, 1989|PHIL SNEIDERMAN | Phil Sneiderman is a regular contributor to Orange County Life.

You can't make an appointment at Jack's Barber Shop in Garden Grove. You just take a seat and wait your turn. And if you want your hair shampooed, then shaped with a brush and a blow dryer, better look elsewhere.

You can't buy high-priced men's grooming products at Jack's. But you can pick up some slightly used golf balls for 50 cents apiece.

The flurry of urban renewal that brought sleek new shopping centers to the city somehow missed this stretch of Garden Grove Boulevard. The barbershop's neighbors include a boarded-up restaurant, an adult bookstore and a nightspot that does not cater to families.

Barber Jack Rhodes says he moved here five years ago because the rent is about half the rate his previous landlord charges in Westminster.

"We have a dirty book store right next door," he said. "Then we have what is referred to as a girlie bar. It really doesn't (bother me). I'm still going to cut hair the same way if I'm in a million-dollar district or a low-rent district. They don't bother me. I don't bother them."

What Rhodes' customers get is a little friendly conversation and a crisp, basic haircut. It takes about 10 minutes and costs six bucks. Warren Shoemaker, 66, of La Palma has no complaints.

"At my age, I just want an old-fashioned haircut," said Shoemaker, who has a small printing business in Garden Grove. "I don't need it to be styled. He gets me in and out in a hurry, and I'm satisfied.

No-frills, old-fashioned barbershops like Jack's are becoming more and more scarce in Orange County. Many men are flocking instead to unisex salons that promote themselves as hair-styling shops. At the same time, the new haircutting chain stores, with hefty advertising budgets, are targeting a younger generation raised on fast-food restaurants and multiscreen movie theaters.

Orange County's real estate boom has also put the squeeze on independent barbers, who find they can no longer afford to rent prime commercial sites.

"It's really becoming an extinct profession," said Rhodes, a third-generation barber who began cutting hair in 1938. "If it wasn't for the volume, I'd really be in tough shape. If you were trying to raise a family, it'd be impossible."

Rhodes, 67, considers himself semi-retired. He employs two other part-time barbers, both in their 70s. "It's something I enjoy doing because I don't have to do it," he said. "You can't make money doing it, but it's fun."

Barbering--the word is derived from the Latin barba, meaning beard--dates back at least to ancient Egypt and Greece. Even then, historians say, the barbershop was a popular men's meeting place where advice was sought and gossip exchanged.

In the Middle Ages, barbers assumed a medical role by extracting teeth, treating wounds and performing a bloodletting procedure that was thought to have health benefits. The modern barber pole's red and white stripes, symbolizing blood and bandages, are reminders of that heritage.

By the first half of the 20th Century, the barbershop was mainly a place for a shave and a haircut. Though an adventurous woman seeking a short haircut might slip in occasionally, the barber shop was primarily a male domain.

The hippie heyday of the late 1960s and early 1970s dealt a serious blow to the industry. Younger men let their hair grow long and visited barbers infrequently. Many customers moved to hair stylists who trimmed and shaped men's hair with techniques previously used only on women.

Many old-time barbers left the business. Others went back to school, learning modern styling techniques to lure back younger customers. Today, even though short hair styles are back in fashion, the old-time barbers are becoming harder to find.

"In a sense, the old barbershop, rather like the old corner drug store of yesterday, is going away," said Lorna Pasco Hill, executive officer of the California Board of Barber Examiners, the state agency that tests and licenses barbers. "Just like the pharmacists are no long the entrepreneurs in the large numbers they were, so, too, the barbers."

Hill said the most recent state records show that Orange County has 382 licensed barber shops. The county also has more than 1,800 shops with cosmetology licenses.

Getting a handle on the industry is difficult because both licenses allow the cutting of men's and women's hair. The average customer may not know which license the hair trimmer has.

Training differs, however. A barber receives more schooling in haircutting techniques. A cosmetologist learns more about chemicals used for hair coloring and permanent waves. Among the differences: only a licensed barber can shave facial hair; only a cosmetologist can perform a manicure.

"The public, by and large, may perceive that a cosmetology shop serves women, and a barbershop serves men," Hill said, "but the line is becoming blurred."

Because the financial aspects have also become more complex, barber colleges should provide more training in small business management, Hill suggests.

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