Women enjoy the simplicity, atmosphere of Muskingum Barber Shop

Photo by Michael Kelly Paula Bigley trims Mark Doebrich’s hair while her co-worker at the Muskingum Barber Shop, Amy Leister, gives Larry Danley a cut. The two barbers have been working together for 19 years.

MARIETTA — It’s midmorning Wednesday at the Muskingum Barber Shop, and men sit in two barber chairs having their hair tended while another two sit waiting for their turns.

The small shop is narrow and bright, with mirrors on one wall facing windows on the other. The front faces north onto Muskingum Drive out toward the river, and a television murmurs quietly as the barbers chat with their customers.

Everyone’s included — the waiting area is seven chairs lined up along the windowed wall, facing the black leather and chrome barber chairs from only a few feet.

Paula Bigley whisks the cape off a man with a freshly trimmed head, takes his money at a small cash-drawer register, and he heads for the door.

“Thanks for the haircut,” he says. “Did I forget anything? Looks like I forgot everything.”

With a pause, he heads for a chair in the waiting area to retrieve his keys, phone and a few other objects and then walks out into the parking lot. Another man, another haircut, takes his place in the chair as Bigley picks up clippers and a comb.

Bigley, 45, has been a barber for 26 years and owned the Muskingum Barber Shop for 20. Her co-worker Amy Leister, 49, has worked in the chair next to her for 19 of those years. Between the two of them, they deliver between 200 and 250 haircuts a week, many of them to men who have been getting trimmed at the shop every two weeks or so for years.

Bigley said she got interested in the cosmetology program at the Washington County Career Center when a friend told her about the course in high school. From there she studied at the Ohio State College of Barber Styling in Columbus.

“It was 1,000 hours, and then the state exam,” she said. “They don’t just hand you a license.”

Leister, who grew up in Barlow and graduated from Warren High School, said her story was nearly identical — a friend, the cosmetology course, the barber school in Columbus.

Why barbering and not women’s styling?

“I don’t like perms, I don’t like hair coloring, I just prefer cuts,” Bigley said.

“I just like cutting men’s hair,” Leister said.

The shop has no shampoo bowls or racks of styling equipment and hair goods for sale, just a long counter under the room-width mirror with a small stainless steel sink in the center and a small cluster of professional tools and old-fashioned grooming compounds at each station.

Conversation with customers is wide-ranging, frequently punctuated with laughter.

Larry Danley mentioned the Loyal Order of Moose club while Leister began trimming his hair around the edges.

“We’re Moose women,” Bigley said.

“You know the secret handshake?” Danley said.

“What about the moose call?” a waiting customer chimed in.

Two men waiting for cuts were discussing the upcoming Marietta schools production of “Shrek: the Musical.” Meanwhile, in Bigley’s chair, retired educator Mark Doebrich talked to her and another waiting customer about the teachers’ walkout in West Virginia.

“They got 5 percent instead of that paltry 2 percent,” one man said, and Doebrich, as Bigley trimmed his sideburns, added, “With the medical going up, they would have lost $60 a month.”

Bigley answers a phone call and quickly dials another number. Someone needs to contact an accountant but doesn’t have a phone.

“Do you believe it? He left his phone on the floor, somebody dropped a 60-pound dumbbell, it bounced and landed on the phone. Completely crushed it,” she said.

As the clippers hum and talk continues, a regular trickle of men come and go, with two or three always waiting for a few minutes, joining the talk, getting a cut.

The shop is open Monday through Friday, all walk-ins except Friday, when Bigley takes appointments.

“That’s the day when she’s sometimes ready to hang me up,” Bigley said, nodding at Leister and laughing. “She’ll have seven or eight waiting while I’m working on appointments.”

Bigley said the best part of the job for her is “the finished product.”

“It’s changing the way people look, from shaggy to neat and clean,” she said.

Not much changes in men’s hair styles, she said, although trends come and go.

“We’ve got the ‘hard part’ recently, where the sides are cut real short but it’s long on top and combed over,” she said. “But they’re just variations. Some of these guys still get the same cut they were getting when they were 7 years old.”

At the far end of the shop, a third black and chrome chair sits vacant.

“That sad and lonely chair,” Bigley said.

She said she’s tried out having a third barber from time to time, but it’s not easy to recruit the right person.

“There aren’t a lot of barbers out there,” she said. “And you have to be able to have a conversation with people … sometimes it’s a bit like you’re their therapist.”

“For that you need to lean the chair back,” cracked a man waiting for a haircut.

“And in case you can’t tell, we get along better with men than we do with women,” Leister added.

Bigley and Leister are more than congenial co-workers.

“Outside work, we hang out,” Bigley said. “She’s my best friend, we’re like sisters.”

Using a coiled yellow air hose, she whisks remnants of his cut off Doebrich’s cape, pulls it away and takes payment.

“Always good to see you,” he says on the way out the door. “I’ll be back if my hair keeps growing.”

“That’s job security,” Leister replies.


At a Glance

Muskingum Barber Shop, 226 Muskingum Drive

* Open Monday through Friday

* In business 20 years

* Walks-ins every day of the week, appointments with Paula on Fridays

* Haircut $12, beard trim $3 — and that’s it

Source: Muskingum Barber Shop