Not ‘tired, retired or expired,’ barber celebrates 60 years in business
The numbers really start to add up when you talk to longtime barber Leo Davis. He’s been cutting hair for 60 years, beginning in 1946, and has been working Downtown since1954, when the Foshay was the tallest skyscraper around.
The barber chairs at Feature Cut Barber Stylists, Davis’s barbershop, date as far back as his long Downtown work history. Ashtrays installed in the chairs at 800 Marquette Ave. are no longer used, but they remind Davis of a barber he worked with on Plymouth Avenue who smoked cigars the entire day.
Davis’s shop appears not to have changed much over time. There’s a picture of his 1985 Grand Mercury on the wall, which he sold several years ago. There is a bottle of “100 percent pure peppermint oil” on his desk. Newspapers are strewn about the seating area, and the television reception is a bit fuzzy.
Customers of all ages come in and pick up conversations with Davis where they left off on the last visit. They comment that Hennepin Avenue looked like Las Vegas 50 years ago, and talk about the Foshay Tower’s renovation into a hotel. Davis tells stories about traveling to school in Mentor, Minn. when the school bus was a covered wagon or sleigh with four horses pulling in front.
More reminders of old times on the shelf are a few pairs of hair clippers that Davis says probably predate his own birth in 1925.
“Can you do the math?” he asks.
The clippers were originally his uncle’s, and they lead to the story of how he got started cutting hair at age 14.
“In the old days, we didn’t have much money, so my uncle or somebody would cut our hair,” Davis said. One day when Uncle Joe wasn’t available, Davis cut his brother’s hair.
“I thought ‘That looks pretty good,’ and next thing I know I’m doing all the neighbor kids,” Davis said.
Davis hasn’t always appreciated the updates in men’s hairstyles over the years. “Men in the ’60s used a lot of hairspray,” Davis said. “Then everybody wanted to look like the Beatles. They used to wear it straight across the back, and I thought it looked like a helmet, but that’s what they wanted.”
He said someone called a few years back and asked if he did highlights, and Davis replied he didn’t know what they were talking about. Later knowledge of hair tinting didn’t inspire him to expand his practice, however.
“It looks like some kind of animal,” he said.
Davis may not offer highlights, but he does offer an old-fashioned shave with a razor blade.
“Hardly anybody does that anymore,” Davis said. “I like doing it.”
A shave by Davis includes far more than a blade and shaving cream. He uses a series of hot towels, moisturizer, aftershave and even a clay mask upon request.
Davis said former Timberwolves owner Marv Wolfenson “asked for the closest shave of anybody I knew.”
Davis got slammed with customers on a recent afternoon, but he had help from Regino Quiambao, who has worked with him for the past 15 years in the neighboring barber chair, and from Jeff West, a shoe shiner who inquired about a job opening 12 years ago and stayed ever since.
Haircut and shave prices that start at $10 apiece are another aspect of Davis’s business that hasn’t changed much — Davis said he raised the prices to $10 about 12 years ago. When Davis began cutting hair 60 years ago he charged 75 cents for a haircut and 35 cents for a shave.
Starting in February 1946, Davis worked for shops on Plymouth and James avenues, 51st and Humboldt avenues, and Plymouth and Morgan avenues. Davis started working Downtown in 1954 at a one-story retail building on 8th Street and later moved on to the Baker Center, Northstar building, and Northwestern Bank building. Davis opened his own shop in 1978 at the old Doctor’s building at 9th Street and Marquette Avenue, now called the Metro building. He noticed a vacant space in the Midwest Plaza while dropping off his dry cleaning six-and-a-half years ago, and decided to reopen on the ground level of 8th and Marquette amid rumors that the Doctor’s building would come down.
“A lot of people my age aren’t working; they’re in nursing homes,” Davis said, referring to his peers as “tired, retired or expired.”
“I don’t want to get older.”