Saying good-bye to Bob the Barber
Appeal Staff Writer
No one is more upset about Carson City barber Bob Ouellette’s retirement than a room full of regular clients on a recent morning.
One retired iron worker casually drops some hints that he’ll be stopping by Ouellette’s home for his regular trim.
Rich Batien, a sheriff’s deputy, threatens, good-naturedly, that the barber may get pulled over a few times for speeding, unless he’s willing to stick around, of course. It’s hard to find a barber who can cut a good flat top.
At Capitol Barber Shop, this is how the banter flies. It’s only broken by the buzz of the clipper or the hum of a vacuum that sucks loose hairs from a customer’s shirt. They make fun of his French surname. He returns it in-kind.
Unlike the typical salon, Ouellette’s barber shop is resplendent with masculinity. This is one of the last havens for men, he says. It’s either the barber shop or a bar. His shop invokes the atmosphere of the latter. The faux-wood paneled walls are decorated with shelves of beer steins (Christmas and Father’s Day gifts from his wife) and collectible bottles and cans. There are a few men’s magazines in the wood rack: Playboy, Hunting and Popular Mechanic.
There are no pungent odors of dye or curl solution here. Ouellette just uses shaving cream.
He’s no stylist. Ouellette has stuck to the old-fashioned techniques because that’s what he was taught back in 1962 at the American Barber College in Long Beach, Calif. The world went unisex around him, but Ouellette kept to his ways.
“My shop hasn’t changed,” he says. “I still do it the old traditional way. The way since time began.”
He’s cut the hair of past governors – Charles Russell, Mike O’Callaghan – and former Secretary of State Dean Heller, now a congressman, on down to sanitary workers and retirees of every ilk.
“These old guys are going to miss all this fun,” Ouellette says while clipping Al Hegdahl, 83, a retired seaman. He’s done in about 15 minutes. Hegdahl salutes Ouellette as he leaves, shuffling behind his walker.
He opened at 1507 N. Carson St. in 1979, then a haircut cost $5. He’s been at $12 for seven years now.
Ouellette’s customer base consists of 150 locals, aged 3 to 97. His 1959 vintage barber’s chair – which has been reupholstered four times in the 42 years he’s had it – will be put in storage after April 28, his last day of work.
“Don’t come that last day, I’ll be crying like a baby,” he says while trimming the next customer, Al Vantress, 65, the retired union iron worker. “It’ll be emotional, after 45 years, you know.”
The 62-year-old Carson City man will start his retirement in May with a road trip. He and Karen Ouellette, his wife of 42 years, are touring Minnesota and visiting Mount Rushmore. They will continue to live in Carson City, where both of them have spent the majority of their lives.
For a man who spent his entire life only wanting to be a barber, this one-chair shop buried behind a liquor store in Carson City is a good way to end.
• Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at email@example.com or 881-1212.