- October 27, 2021
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KITCHENER — Harold Schmitt remembers the days when a haircut at his father’s Kitchener barbershop cost 50 cents.
Schmitt, 84, started working there when he was just a teenager in the early 1950s, beginning his three-year apprenticeship to learn the trade.
It’s been 67 years since he first picked up the scissors, but after what he calls a lifetime of cutting hair, Schmitt will finally close up shop in his basement Highland Road West storefront on Saturday, a location he’s known for 45 years after moving on from his dad’s barbershop on Queen Street.
His retirement will mark the end of an era for one of the region’s long-standing barbers.
“I don’t think I can say I thought I would still be doing this 67 years later,” he said, sitting with his legs stretched out in front of him on one of his red barber chairs, a full head of wavy white hair he claims is a little too long sitting perfectly atop his head.
A dozen or so pairs of scissors and clippers are spilled out on the table, seemingly double with the reflection of the mirror. There’s wood panel walls, old photos sprinkled around the room, and a small seating area in front of the two barber chairs.
Schmitt knows his way around the shop like he knows his way around a brush cut — the true test of proving you are a barber, his dad would say.
“My father always thought it was a good idea to have a trade you could fall back on in case things didn’t work out. So, this was my trade. The apprenticeship took three years, but I was lucky, it was five years and much more intense back in Germany where he did it.”
Save for a few years when Schmitt worked at the Schneider’s meat plant and cut hair on the side, being a barber has been his lifelong career.
He’s had a little bit of everyone walk through his doors over the years.
Lawyers, doctors and factory workers. He’s had fathers, sons and grandsons. And although it wasn’t his specialty, he learned to cut women’s hair as well — though few have asked for the short bob his father mastered back in the 1940s.
Schmitt is a bit methodical with his cuts, sizing up his clients before they sit down in the chair, taking in the shape of their head and searching for any scars he might have to try and hide.
“Once you get them seated and you ask them what they want, that’s when experience takes over,” he said.
Some of his clients date back to the early years working with his father, many of whom he’ll continue to visit for house calls after his retirement.
As for the other clients, he said, it’s them he’ll miss the most.
“It’s the people, just talking to the people,” he said, his eyes staring down at the floor where his wife had just cleaned up a pile of fallen hair. It came from a walk-in, one of his last spontaneous hair cuts in the shop.
Schmitt said he’s ready for retirement — the pandemic gave him a brief trial run when lockdowns stopped him from cutting hair for three months. It was the first time since he started his apprenticeship 67 years ago that he’d gone that long without cutting hair in a barbershop.
With some growing grandchildren he plans on seeing more, and a number of local rivers and lakes that need fishing, Schmitt said he’ll find different ways to keep busy.
And his advice to young barbers?
Enjoy the freedom of working for yourself and enjoy the customers.
“How has it changed over the years? I don’t think it has,” he said, staring out across the shop, a sheepish smile building on his face. “Except I did have one man ask me to do racing stripes on the side of his head. That was different. Yes, I charged him extra for that.”
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