Fifty years of flattops

Glenn’s Barber Shop celebrates anniversary

Fifty years and two rotator cuff surgeries ago, Glenn Huerd opened Glenn’s Barber Shop at 834 W. 36th St., back when haircuts were $1.25 and barbers used butch wax to keep flattops in place.

In the 1950s and 1960s, most customers wanted flattops, Huerd said. “Once you get a following and cut a good flattop, they keep coming and coming and coming,” he said. Ultimately, that haircut was his undoing. Years and years of holding his arms shoulder high took its toll, and his shoulders finally gave out. He is having shoulder-replacement surgery this fall.

His son Dan took over the business in the mid-1990s; Glenn helped for several years. Today, he keeps his neighborhood connection by working part-time for Bryant Hardware next door. The business node has changed a lot since Glenn’s opened in 1957. Brotherson’s butcher shop, Paradise Bakery, Young’s Flowers and the Golden Valley Drug Store are all gone. But the barbershop has remained pretty much the same. Huerd said he bought an old-time barbershop and he wanted to keep it that way. It still has the penny gumball machine and barber knickknacks collected over the years: old straight razors, Gillette Blue Blades and an assortment of tonics and gels, from Burma Shave pre-electric lotion to “L.B. Hair in Place for perfectly groomed hair.”

The shop’s loyal following has passed from father to son. Longtime resident John Arms said starting with his grandfather, four generations of Arms have had their ears lowered at Glenn’s. “You will never find a nicer guy. He knew everyone and their family. It has a small-town feel,” he said.

As a youngster, Arms recalled Saturday trips to Glenn’s with his father and brothers Leo, Joe, Tom and Mike. They had three stops: Glenn’s for a buzz cut, Brotherson’s for a rump roast, then Young’s to buy flowers for mom. “Glenn’s had one haircut. We called it the number 2,” Arms said. “He would set the buzzer on number 2 and he’d line us up and boom, boom, boom. It was a good day when the Arms came in. It probably took no longer than a half hour.”

The shop has two barber chairs, but for most of its 50 years, it has had only one barber. If the shop gets crowded, customers use the extra barber chair to wait their turn. Huerd said when he started, he hired a guy to work the second chair; but the guy couldn’t make it half the Saturdays, and having an employee meant doing too much paperwork. He went solo. “What you lose, you lose; what you don’t, you don’t,” he said. As a young man, he started as a salesman for Booth Fishery but didn’t enjoy it. His mother worked as beauty operator in St. Peter. “She wanted me to be a beauty operator, but I couldn’t handle women all day,” he said. “There was a barber shop in front, and I wanted to be a barber. I wanted to work for myself.”

Making ends meet wasn’t always easy. In the 1970s when long hair replaced the number 2, a lot of barbershops closed, Huerd said. He and his wife Jeneva had a young family, and he started working seven days a week, adding part-time jobs as a Burnsville school janitor and weekend laborer at the Minneapolis Star and Tribune to make up for the lost income. He even made haircut house calls at Walker nursing home.

After more than four decades behind the chair, Huerd has his share of stories. He had one regular customer who had the obnoxious habit of getting a haircut and then announcing he would pay for it when he came back. That typically meant a three- or four-day delay. Anticipating the ploy, Huerd gave him an otherwise perfect flattop but left a tidy square of hair in back. The customer returned in three hours with the money, he said.

Another time, NSP (now Xcel Energy) used Huerd and the barbershop to film a commercial. They said it wouldn’t take long, Huerd said with a smile. For hours, Huerd went through the motions of cutting customer Don Siefert’s hair while the two talked endlessly about fishing, until the director got the desired shot.

Huerd got to hear his share of stories, too. In the 1960s, he had an elderly customer who talked about growing up on the 3400 block of Pleasant Avenue South when that was the end of developed housing in the city. Other guys would tell about family problems.

“They would tell you when they were having trouble with their kids because you knew their kids,” he said. “They tell you everything. That is the funny part of a barbershop. You knew everything that went on in the neighborhood. If you told everything you knew, you’d be the worst gossip in the world.”

Disclaimer: The author gets his “number 2” at Glenn’s.