March 11, 2020
DEFINITION: Paying close attention to something; very polite or courteous.
There’s something to be said for a community that still has some original barbershops. The kind with spinning barber poles. The kind where you’ll definitely know somebody on most visits, and where the barber definitely knows you. At Uncommon Character, we salute these hard-working haircutters who like to give customers a neat and clean look – but who enjoy just connecting with them most of all.
Welcome to Hickman’s Barber Shop…And Sit Right Down
It’s Saturday morning at Hickman’s Barber Shop. This means it’s time to kick back, engage in some casual conversation and patiently wait your turn for one of three chairs to open up.
Yep, you might wait for a minute. And it’s all good. You’ll probably like it.
At Hickman’s, there’s online check-in ahead of time. There’s not much staring at phones at all, in fact, gentlemen from ages toddler to senior just sit casually, waiting and talking. Someone might crack a joke about recent news or politics; another customer might come in with a grandson or two in tow. They’ll all sit in vinyl chairs and face the long row of original wooden cabinets from Mr. Hickman’s original barber shop, opened in 1929 at 18th and Frederick. Even though Hickman’s moved to its current location in 1979, all the customers still sit near the hall tree, brought here from the original shop – as well as the large hand-made Hickman’s Barber Shop piece of original flooring that now serves as a good-sized welcome sign.
Third-generation barber Todd Hickman really connects to the nostalgia, and it gives him pause to stop and reflect as he’s cutting a customer’s hair. “Growing up as a kid, the original Hickman’s Barber Shop was at 18th and Frederick. I would hang out there with my dad while he worked. I could walk to Gold-N-Glaze for a donut and go over to Hatfield’s to drool over their stuff,” says Todd. “Then I’d hit the Hi-Ho for lunch. Lots of good memories.”
He notes that he still owns his father’s and his grandfather’s barber chairs, in the basement of his own home. He also points out that the Hickman’s clock on the wall is actually an original Joe Optican’s clock, with a homemade Hickman’s face added later. When it’s time for his customer to pay, Todd heads to the vintage cash register. Its door slides open with a zing to make change for a $20 bill. There are no computers or debit cards here at Hickman’s.
“People want the atmosphere here. It’s simple, and it’s a place to relax when there’s so much to do all the time,” says Todd. “We really get to know our people. My favorite part of the job is when I see a kid whose hair I used to cut, and he is bringing in his own son. We do see several third-generation customers. But we’re nothing fancy. We’re just simple.”
It’s a formula that works. There are awards, homemade items made by customers and historic family photos on the walls to prove it.
Todd knows his people, and they also know him, along with two other stylists who work there. Some customers know the barber pole near the door is the original one Todd’s grandpa owned; others might know the wooden birdhouse on top of the hall tree is made to look like the original shop. All know there’s no drama in deciding who is next in the chair. People just sort of motion to each other from various conversations, or say politely, “I believe you’re next.”
It’s this atmosphere that keeps Jacob Kimble coming back, the middle of three generations of customers. Jacob, while waiting for a cut, explains that his dad, Dwayne, comes to Hickman’s and brought him as a boy. Now Jacob brings his own son, Connor, starting with his first haircut experience. “I could actually cut my own hair, but I like to support local and just come and hang out,” says Jacob. “And my son likes to leave with some candy. He says ‘are we doing to see Mr. Todd today?’ and he knows he will get a sucker if he’s good.”
Jacob adds that sometimes, he takes advantage of Hickman’s 6 a.m. weekday hours and arrives even before opening. “On the way there, I’m just thinking, I hope I’m the first car in the lot. But a lot of times, I’m not,” he says, laughing. “You better get here a half-hour early if you want to be first.”
And that just makes sense. Because in a place like this – laid-back, low-key and maybe a little old-school – customers keep coming back or arriving early because they want to, and they know they are always welcome. (Not because an online check-in app told them to get there.)
Hickman’s Barber Shop
5213 Frederick Ave
St. Joseph, MO 64506
Tuesday – Friday 6 AM – 1 PM & Saturday 6 AM – 11 PM
Fred the Barber…He’s Happy to Meet You
Fred Robertson, known in St. Joseph as “Fred the Barber,” also really enjoys his work. And he’s had more than 52 years to make up his mind about that fact.
He’s a graduate of Moller Barber College in Kansas City, having sold most of his possessions to pay his way through. Some of his early experience at barber school was helping clients who couldn’t afford to pay for the cut, which Fred found highly rewarding. After becoming a St. Joseph resident in 1984, he worked for another local barber in St. Joseph – then opened his own shop at 18th and Olive streets, welcoming clients in his laid-back way for nearly 25 years. After a stint in Maryville, Mo., and another barber shop in the region, he returned to St. Joseph. This time, he opened the doors of his own home to take care of his customers.
Today, Fred the Barber is still loving the barber life, and still enjoying making a difference in a person’s day, laughing and talking with everyone who comes in his door. (Many customers would say the best part of a haircut with Fred is, actually, Fred.) Fred not only takes pride in taking great care of his customers, but he has also adopted his street, Pickett Road from 28th street to the Belt Highway, to do his part in beautifying the community.
This shop on Pickett Road with the homemade sign aligns perfectly with Fred’s philosophy (as noted on his Facebook page): “This is my 50th year cutting hair and I still enjoy it very much. Children are welcome. If it’s a child’s first haircut they will go home with a lock of hair and a certificate. Come by and visit. I think you will like what you see.”
Fred the Barber
3109 Pickett Road
St. Joseph, MO 64503
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday 8 AM – 5 PM
Chet’s Barber Shop…Just What the Doctor Ordered
A visit to Chet’s Barber Shop at 1601 Frederick is part museum, part barbershop. Chet Jones, founder and namesake, is 98 years old and can tell you about the city’s high style through the decades. So can his son, Rick, currently barbering at Chet’s.
Photos inside the Frederick location show Chet and his neatly-trimmed crew inside the glamorous Robidoux Hotel in 1951, where their original shop was located. When the business moved to 1601 Frederick, they became part of another good story, revolving around an early pharmacy in St. Joseph.
The current Chet’s building was constructed by Frederick Hagermann in 1890, a saloon keeper. Another early occupant was Reinhold William, a physician who sold patent medicines. In 1913 it became Norris Drug Store. That’s why you’ll see all kinds of interesting old pharmacy bottles inside Chet’s Barber Shop. They were found in several nooks and crannies, and some could be a century old. The collection makes for fascinating conversation as you peruse nearby shelves of ultra-modern hair products. (Where else can you read the long, long label of “Glover’s Magic Medicine” or “Sen-Sen Throat Ease and Breath Perfume” while you grab some professional shampoo?)
After your history lesson and haircut, stop by River Bluff Brewing at 1224 Fredrick to enjoy the craftsmanship of an early Chet’s sign, part of the brewery’s collection of historic St. Joseph memorabilia.
Chet’s Barber Shop
1601 Frederick Ave
St. Joseph, MO 64501
Tuesday – Friday 7:30 AM – 5 PM & Saturday 7:30 AM – 12 PM
Eckels Barber Shop…70 Years, and So Many Haircuts
Eckels Barber Shop at 2516 Frederick is just what you would expect from a classic barber. The barber pole by the door actually spins, and even makes a humming sound. There’s authentic hexagon tile in the entry way, with the dark blue tiles displaying the street number for decades and decades of shoes to walk across. The blue and white checkered tile inside and classic barber chairs let you know this shop means business, but in a cozy, comfortable way.
This is the way the late Bob Eckels wanted it, and probably his dad, before him. Now son, Greg Eckels, a third-generation barber, carries on the tradition in the same location. Bob Eckels operated the shop for 60 years at 2516 Frederick, and likely had hundreds of good stories to tell about the customers and families he served. He probably had numerous stories about St. Joseph as a city, too, having large front windows alongside several long-standing businesses on the Frederick Avenue side to watch time, and progress, happen.
Even the walls at Eckels are a good sign that he cared about the city and was proud of it, showcasing numerous historic photos. Some that stand out include a beautiful print of the Orpheum Theater entrance, and several photos of crowded shopping days downtown. There’s a good deal of energy and some definite glamour in the photos, leaving no doubt that many a hat-wearing had been made even snappier by an Eckels family haircut. (Fast forward a few decades, and it’s noted that Bob cut the hair of many St. Joseph area customers, including U.S. Senator Kit Bond.)
Bob was known to really love people, and was willing to talk with anyone – qualities that likely led to his 60-plus years of success and the personal touch the shop is known for. Now, as Greg Eckel continues the tradition, he welcomes customers across the same tile floor, nearly reaching a milestone of 70 years of service in the same building. He brings experience ranging from Kansas City barber school to professional work with the Paul Mitchell brand. And like Fred the Barber and Todd Hickman, he brings a first-name touch and a pride in personal service that’s becoming…well…a little uncommon.
Eckels Barber Shop
2516 Frederick Ave
St. Joseph, MO 64506
Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday 8 AM – 4:45 PM & Saturday 8 AM – 12 PM
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Soon guests and residents could enjoy even more, both inside and outside, as a 1/2 cent sales tax increase hits the ballot, with revenues dedicated to renovation and enhancements of the city’s parks system. If approved, the tax increase would generate an additional $5 to 6 million dollars per year and could be shared across dozens of projects.
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Times change, but the best stories remain. They are shared from generation to generation, through everything from photographs to buildings to real conversations (a.k.a, the good stuff).
What started 160 years ago has returned in a new way. Ask hundreds of customers and visitors, and they’ll say it’s right on time.