Doing my Job

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February 21, 2005 // UPDATED 1:52 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Greg Corrandini
Greg Corrandini

Leo Odden, Barber, Grain Exchange Building, 400 S. 4th St.

Just before 2 p.m. on a Friday, a man walks into the Minneapolis Grain Exchange, steps onto the orange linoleum floor and says, "Take a little off the top."

It's been happening that way for 35 years for Leo Odden, owner of the Grain Exchange Barber Shop, 400 S. 4th St. This particular Friday, he's busier than usual and booked solid until 4:15 p.m. - everything's appropriately abuzz.

The sluggish male customers who have pledged their allegiance to Odden's clippers - some for years - await their 15-minute haircuts. "Today, I've made out like a real bandit, I mean barber," Odden says.

From 1970 to 1978, Odden's shop had a window-front location, facing 4th Avenue South on the Grain Exchange's west side. He said he didn't need to advertise with so much exposure.

However, a lawyer across the hall wanted Odden's space, so the barbershop was shoved farther back toward an alley. Word of mouth is what rakes in the customers these days.

"I don't get very many walk-ins," he said. "Every customer I get, I seem to hold onto for a while."

While watching Odden work, he skillfully handles a phone conversation with a buzzing hair razor in one hand, a comb in the other and the phone tucked onto his shoulder.

Ronny - everyone at Odden's is on a first-name basis - drops in to chat. One glimpse of the greasy rat-tail tied back behind his ears and Odden's already giving him hell.

"This guy here is an example of the worst I got," Odden said of Ronny. "I shouldn't even let you sit around in a barbershop with a pony tail. You're hurting my image."

After few moments of brotherly abuse, Ronny jumps into the chair and Odden announces his verdict: a trim the rattail lives. Then he pulls out the clippers and gets down to work on Ronny's hair, then also on his mustache and eyebrows.

When he is not playfully taunting his customers, Odden keeps their ears full of historical chatter. This day, there was talk about prospective real-estate investments and Dr. Kinsey's 1948 sex research (the topic of a recent Hollywood movie.) Then, Odden jumped into a lesson about archeologists who discovered containers of honey in Egyptian tombs.

Honey and business go hand-in-hand for Odden.

Odden used to bring in extra money by making honey on a farm he owned in Lake Pepin, Wisc. He'd hoped the money could finance a vacation. "It never really worked out that way," he said.

Now, Odden contemplates a three-week month in which he might take the last week off. He said his customers would just have to accommodate their schedules to his.

"That's why I'm busy today," Odden said. "Because everyone didn't come in the third week of the month like they should've."