YAKIMA, Wash. — For nearly a half-century, Steve’s Barber Shop on Walnut Street has served as a social hub where patrons swap stories, learn of the city’s happenings and solve the world’s problems — all from a barber’s chair.
Situated across the street from Yakima Regional Medical and Cardiac Center, the barbershop has regularly served nearly all walks of life, from prominent professionals such as doctors, lawyers and judges to common, everyday people.
“If we had to spill the beans on some of the important people that come in here, we’d have two judges after us and have to leave town,” owner Steve Richardson said with a laugh while cutting a customer’s hair last week.
But the social conversations at this shop, from politics to how the Seahawks are playing, have come to an end. Richardson has retired, and Saturday was the shop’s last day of business.
“There are some aspects I’m going to miss,” the fiery 70-year-old said. “But I’m going to enjoy life, do a little traveling maybe.”
Brian Kores, a 45-year-old forklift driver, said his late father was a regular at the shop and brought him there for his first haircut at age 1, and he has been a regular ever since.
“I just can’t believe this is going to be my last haircut in here after coming for 45 years,” Kores said at the shop last week. “It’s heartbreaking. ”
His father, Aldy Kores, died in 1989. Getting a haircut there was a father-and-son thing, he said. “So I keep coming here to keep touch with his memory.”
The shop’s closure is another sign of the end of an era for small, old-time barbershops that focus on men, said Charles Kirkpatrick, executive director of the National Association of Barber Boards of American in Arkadelphia, Ark.
“A lot of places are bringing them back and they want to do what they used to do, just be a man’s kind of place,” he said. “But it’s true that the little corner barbershop is starting to disappear.”
Richardson said when he opened the shop at 816 1/2 W. Walnut St. in 1965, there were roughly 35 other barbers in town and haircuts cost $1. Now, only a handful of barbers remain, and the average cost of a haircut is $12, he said.
“It’s kind of a dying breed.”
Many barbershops are now larger and diversified, some even adding cosmetology services and catering to both men and women, Kirkpatrick said.
“Shops that used to be one or two chairs now have 10 chairs,” Kirkpatrick said.
Richardson’s shop had three chairs. His brother, John Richardson, 66, ran one of the chairs while 64-year-old Tim Friesz ran the second. Richardson and his brother both have retired; Friesz plans to continue cutting hair at Gent’s Barber Stylist on 20th Avenue.
Leaving the shop after 39 years will be hard, said Friesz, describing the Richardsons as his brothers.
“We cut hair together, went camping, fishing together, raised our kids together,” he said. “It’s like a family thing.”
Richardson entered barber school while in his senior year at Marquette High School and leaped into the business right after graduating.
“I was going to have to do something, and my wife’s uncle owned a barber school,” he said. At the time, he was engaged to his wife, Janie. They’ve been married 50 years.
Roughly six years after graduating, he convinced his younger brother to follow him into the business. “And he’s held it against me ever since,” Steve quipped.
Looking over the shop’s red and white cabinets, white sinks and old red barber chairs, Kores said it hasn’t changed since he first step foot inside.
“It’s still the same barbershop when I came in here as a kid,” he said, “Same old (cash) register, same chairs, cabinets, sinks. This is a piece of history.”
The old wooden cash register sat atop a cabinet at the front of the shop. “That’s a 1946 vintage,” Richardson said. “It was on an Army post originally. I had a register buff in here once and he checked out the numbers on it.”
Standing at his shop’s large front window, Richardson pointed to the hospital across the street, and told how the front parking lot was once a row of apartments, and how an emergency helicopter landing pad was nearby.
“We’ve got a million dollars worth of landscape around here in the fall,” he said about the many trees lining the hospital’s curbside. “All these trees around here turn red.”
With the shop’s nostalgia comes a rich history of people and stories.
Some of the regulars over the years have included the late Jimmy Nolan Jr., a Yakima television personality who, from 1953 to the late 1970s, hosted a children’s show on Channel 29 called “Jimmy’s Clubhouse,” and U.S. District Judge Michael Leavitt, who died in June 2007. Former Yakima County prosecutor and retired U.S. Attorney Jeff Sullivan also was a regular before moving to the west side of the state.
“We’ve seen a lot of comings and goings,” Steve said.
And with time has come plenty of stories.
A large poster of the Blue Angels 50th anniversary signed by each pilot hung on one wall. Richardson said one of the pilots, Scott Beare, dropped in for a haircut while here on a flying demonstration. Warren Robbins, a volunteer at McAllister Museum of Aviation, brought Beare to the shop. A year later, Robbins brought the poster signed by the pilots.
Richardson said he once told a priest who was a customer that he hears confessions all the time from his customers. “I told him they tell me stuff they don’t even tell their wives,” he said. “And he gave me the Roman collar.”
Richardson pulled a white collar from a drawer. “He said, ‘Here, you need this,’” Richardson recalled.
But Friesz has the best story. He recalls a man rushing back into the shop after getting his haircut, complaining that his car had been stolen. Friesz called the police and a report was taken. It wasn’t unil the next day that the man learned that his car was mistakenly taken by a mechanic who was scheduled to pick up another, similar car across the street to give it a tuneup. The man left his keys on the floorboard, leading the mechanic to believe he had the right car, Friesz recalled.
“So he got a haircut and a free tuneup,” Friesz said with a chuckle. “That was one of the oddest things we had in here.”
Stories like that are what have kept customers returning, Richardson said.
“The haircut is secondary — they’re coming in here to find out what’s going down,” he said with a laugh. “And they do a lot of bragging. They do a lot of bragging about who’s running things at home. And we know they’re lying, but we listen to them anyway.”
Yakima school board member Walt Ranta said the stories kept him returning to the shop the past 20 years.
He said the barbers there had a running joke about having a red phone so the president, Pentagon or members of Congress could call to get their opinion on world affairs.
“You can get all the world’s problems solved there,” the 62-year-old said. “Yeah, if they’d just listen to us around the barbershop, they’d have all the world’s problems solved.”
Ranta said he’s saddened by the shop’s closure.
“Boy, that’s going to be a big blow — a lot of people go in there,” he said
But keeping a barber from behind a chair isn’t easy if he is in good health, said Kirkpatrick of the national association, who still cuts hair after 50 years in the business.
“I bet that it won’t be 90 days that he’ll be back in it,” he said. “Old barbers don’t die, they just clip away.”
• Phil Ferolito can be reached at 509-577-7749 or email@example.com.