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Barber Bud Mohn trimmed a customers hair at TR's Barber shop in downtown Lakeville.

Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

Barber Bud's a Lakeville mainstay

  • Article by: SHANNON PRATHER
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • October 6, 2012 - 12:08 AM

Barber Reuben "Bud" Mohn has lived through the best of hairstyles and some of the worst.

He came of age in the 1940s with a pompadour. He saw the flattop rise in popular early in his career. Then, men started asking for the Ivy League, which left a little more hair for styling.

There were the dark days for barbers when many men wore their hair long. He's even cut around a few toupees.

After more than 50 years on Lakeville's main street, he'll end his nearly 60-year barber career with men once again favoring closely cropped styles and a revival in professional barbershop shaves.

Mohn, 82, will retire on Oct. 27. He's already sold his shop to fellow barber Tom Rice. The shop, now called TR's Barber Shop, has been a Lakeville mainstay since it was a village of 700. (Today's population: 56,000-plus.)

"He's a real kind and gentle man. He's just a terrific person," Rice, 65, said. "We are going to miss him."

"He keeps his life simple and clean. He doesn't drink or smoke. He's a hard worker," said fellow barber Tracy Henry, 39. "He's just a good guy."

Mohn has deep roots in Lakeville. He grew up there, graduating from high school in 1948. He was drafted into the Army during the Korean War and drove a tank in Alaska during the war years. He returned home in the early 1950s and decided to follow his uncle's lead and attend barber school.

It was a closely guarded profession at the time. He had to push to land a spot at a barber school on St. Paul's east side.

"Then you had to know someone to get in. It was like the mafia," Mohn said.

Barber school is different than beautician training. There's an emphasis on tapering and fading, which is more common in men's hairstyles. And barbers can shave, beauticians cannot, Rice and Henry said.

He apprenticed at a barbershop connected to a local watering hole in Faribault called the Hurry Back.

"You have to go through the barbershop to get to the bar. It was a busy place," recalled Mohn. "The cheapest I worked was 75 cents a haircut."

Haircuts at TR's now cost $16.

He bought his barber chair and married his wife, Berniece, in 1958, and he jokes that he isn't sure which one he could part with first. He bought out a downtown Lakeville barber shop run by two brothers. He opened in spring 1959.

"It was kind of dying. I had to build it up," Mohn said.

He moved his shop to four locations around Lakeville's main street -- Holyoke Avenue -- before returning to the building where he started. He's been in the same location since 1988. There's an authentic barber pole outside the shop, wood paneling and a black leather couch inside.

Shaves back in fashion

"When I first started, I did a lot of shaving," Mohn says.

That fell out of fashion for many years, but now there's a growing interest in a barbershop shave. As women flock to day spas, men also like a little pampering. These days, Mohn leaves the shaving with a straightedge razor to the two younger barbers.

"It's relaxing. You lay back. You get multiple hot towels. They want the whole experience," explained Henry.

There were some low times during Mohn's 50 years behind the barber chair. Styles changed, hair-styling chains popped up and the notion of barber shops almost became a novelty. Mohn survived bladder cancer, most likely a result of breathing secondhand smoke. His customers often lit up cigarettes, cigars and pipes while in the barber chair.

But Mohn kept a steady clip at his shop and business grew. Rice, a Navy veteran , joined Mohn in 1998. Henry came on board around 2000, after serving overseas in the Marines.

"They didn't have a phone. They didn't have a website or even hours on the door," recalls Henry.

Henry has helped give the shop a more modern presence with a website and has helped diversify their clientele.

Mohn said he's watched the city grow from a small farm town of 700, but the bread-and-butter of the barber business remains the same. The shop offers good-quality haircuts and shaves -- walk-ins only -- and good conversation, usually about sports or local politics.

"What makes barbershops go is conversation," Rice said. "You have three distinct generations going on in there. The guys love that."

Rice's 30-year-old son, Jim, is now in barber school and will join the shop.

Women customers and visitors are welcome, but the shop's clientele is predominantly men.

"It's a great place for conversation," said customer Gary May, who has been a customer for three years.

May, who drives from Elko New Market, said he sought out a barber shop versus a chain salon.

"You look for the old-fashioned barber pole. They cut it the way you want it, not according to same fad or trend," May said. "They do a good job here. It's almost fun."

Shannon Prather is a Twin Cities freelance writer.

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