Harry Schierer stepped out of the barber’s chair for something like the 850th time.
“You’re going to make me cry,” the 89-year-old Norton man said as he shook hands a last time with his longtime barber, Bob Gainer.
Every three weeks, ever since Gainer’s Barbershop opened in the Norton Plaza in 1962, Schierer could count on his usual haircut, complete with an old-fashioned trim around the ears featuring warm shaving cream and an ever-steady straight razor.
Like Schierer, many of Gainer’s longtime clients have lined up this week for their final haircuts. The barber of Norton, 80, who estimates he’s cut more than 150,000 heads during his 52 years in the same location, is closing his shop for good today.
Based on an average 20-minute haircut, Gainer spent about 3 million minutes, the equivalent to 2,083 consecutive days, standing in his shop and trimming hair.
Over the years, Gainer’s heard and seen it all. He’s seen little boys grow into men. He saw Norton police shoot it out with a fugitive in 1965.
He became so well known, that even with no stamp, the postman once delivered him a Christmas card from a child, addressed only to “Bob the Barber, Norton, Ohio.”
Hairstyles come and go
He’s seen hairstyles come and go, from the manly, military flat top, to the curious perms of the 1970s and the country mullets of the ’80s.
Along the way, he’s listened to countless stories, about family, sports and politics.
“Everybody had a story to tell,” he said. “But I enjoyed them. They were good people.”
The fact that his shop remained so strong for so long is a story of perseverance. Gainer’s is a hidden time capsule, barely visible tucked in a corner of the Norton Plaza, behind the imposing Ace Hardware and Dollar General.
Gainer has survived the challenge of those chain-stores with their eight chairs and all those pretty stylists able to work seven days a week. Because he’s a barber, Gainer’s license does not allow Sunday haircuts.
The competition of late was getting hairy.
“It’s beginning to take its toll,” Gainer conceded.
Follows uncles’ trade
Gainer followed in the footsteps of two uncles and entered the trade in 1958. He worked in Portage Lakes before opening his own shop in Norton Plaza. His brother, Jim, was another longtime barber, operating for years in Wadsworth.
“I thought my uncles were making a pretty good living, so I thought I’d get into it,” Gainer said.
His life, on the whole, was modest yet fulfilling.
In October 1961, he went on a blind date arranged by his sister. He and his date went to the Loews in downtown Akron for a double feature: The Apartment and Elmer Gantry starring Burt Lancaster.
Married for 52 years
Six months later, they married. And 52 years later, Bob and Edna Gainer are still together.
They raised three children: Karen, Susan and Bob Jr. They lost Karen to a brain tumor when she was 23.
Summers meant an annual trip to Myrtle Beach. When he wasn’t cutting hair, Gainer could be found golfing at Chippewa or Loyal Oak. Bob and Edna now brag about their grandchildren, Rachel and Grant.
Between cuts on Thursday, Edna Gainer said her husband probably wouldn’t talk about the kind things he’s done over the years. He’s not that boastful. But she recalls many times he’d help spruce up — at no charge — an unemployed man making his way to an important job interview.
“He just wanted them to look nice for the interview,” Edna Gainer said.
Cutting by appointment
Gainer was one of the first barbers to cut only by appointment. He grew leery of busy Saturdays when men would take a number and go off to cut grass or shop until their turn came up. Sometimes they returned, sometimes not.
So in 1979, Gainer decided to take appointments only.
His store doesn’t appear to have changed much since the 1970s, except maybe the flat-screen TV that plays all day above the rack of magazines and newspapers.
Inside his shop, there are his golf trophies and memorabilia lining the wall. On the floor is a putting machine with a few stray golf balls nearby. There are the pictures of Norton youth baseball teams he sponsored over the years. By the door is a large, but clean upright aluminum ashtray that hasn’t been used for years. Swinging brown gates between the waiting area and the barber chairs provide privacy, an addition that came along in the ’70s when men didn’t necessarily want to be seen with tiny curlers in their hair.
At times, other barbers, including his brother, operated chairs next to his.
“I think you had to be able to do everything in order to be successful,” Gainer said.
Everything includes being — at times — a marriage counselor. It’s a story he recalls easily: a man was upset and on the verge of divorce. Gainer and the despondent man talked during the cut.
A short time after the man left for home, his wife burst inside the barber shop, demanding to know exactly what advice Gainer had just told her husband. “When did I become a marriage counselor?” Gainer said to himself.
The couple later divorced.
As he’s finishing up with Schierer, he reminds everyone that only a trained barber, and not some young stylist, can use the straight razor. He lathers around the ears, like the old days, and carefully makes his cuts from side to side around Schierer’s thinning gray hair.
He offers one last ear joke to his longtime client before saying goodbye.
“I wouldn’t let someone do this without training,” he said. “You might go home with your ears in your pockets.”