Chillicothe had 20 barbers, two beauty shops when Norman Gregg began cutting hair in 1963
Norman Gregg, who entered the barber business in 1963, closed up shop this summer, ending a 56-year career of cutting hair.
The Braymer, Mo., native was in his mid-20s when he enrolled in Moler Barber School in Kansas City. On Saturday, June 29, 2019, Norman, now 82 years of age, gave his last haircut at his shop, King’s Den, located in the James building at 337 Washington Street.
“I’ve enjoyed it,” Norman said as he reflected on his time cutting hair. “I’ve enjoyed talking to people. I talk to a lot of people.”
A steady stream of folks often frequented the shop. Most came in for a haircut, with conversation on the side; however, some most likely were drawn in more for conversation about the latest happenings, with a haircut on the side.
“That’s what the barber business is all about… getting the news,” Norman said. “Getting and giving the news.”
Norman has seen many changes in his near six decades of barbering. When he first opened shop, Chillicothe had 20 barbers and two beauty shops. Barbers were in high demand.
“Men who worked and were out in the public got their hair cut every two weeks,” Norman said. “Every 10 days to two weeks.”
Haircuts were $1.25 when Norman first started cutting hair.
By the 1970s, the once popular flat-tops gave way to men who were letting their hair grow longer.
“Whenever their sons started growing out their hair, the barber business went down the tubes,” Norman said. “And, the beauty shop business grew.”
That’s a trend that has stuck around. There are now 13 beauty shops and three barbers in Chillicothe, Norman said.
One of Norman’s popular cuts for many years was his “Wash and Wear”, a style that featured a short cut all the way around, but long enough on top to comb forward.
Norman opened his shop at 6:30 a.m. and closed at 5 p.m. The early morning hours were especially convenient for farmers who came in early and then “got on the road.”
Norman enjoyed a loyal clientele. Among them was Eldon Johnson, who first started seeing Norman in the late 1960s when he got out of the Air Force. He was among the last to get his hair cut the final week the shop was open. He stopped by on closing day to take a few pictures of Norman and to record this part of local history.
Norman’s youngest customer was 2 years old and his oldest, 100; and, he cut hair for all ages in between. He enjoyed joking around with the young boys and was happy to bring his clippers along with him when visiting friends and customers in nursing homes. He has cut hair for his sons, grandson, and great-grandson. His final cut at the King’s Den was that for son, Mel, a few days after the shop’s official closing.
Norman entered barber school when he and his wife, Dolly, were living in Cowgill, Mo. Norman had been employed with a plywood company until a car accident prompted him to explore other career options. That’s when he decided to pursue barbering.
After completing barber school, Norman returned to his hometown and began cutting hair. He was there only a couple of months with another barber, Bob Waters, when a friend from his childhood, Clithro Anderson, asked Norman to join him in the barber business at Pony’s on Webster Street near downtown Chillicothe. The two barbered at Pony’s until the new Park Center Shopping Center, across from Simpson Park, was constructed and they moved to the new location. Don James also cut hair with Norman and Clithro. Norman later opened King’s Den, in the James Building.
In 1980, Norman and Dolly purchased P&S Bowling Alley and Lounge at Braymer and Norman left the Chillicothe barber scene. He was once again cutting hair in Braymer. It wasn’t long, though, that he and Dolly returned to Chillicothe.
Norman may best be known as a fixture in the barber business; however, he also was active in construction. Not only did he and Clithro barber together, but when they weren’t cutting hair, they were building houses in the Ballantyne Addition.
“It kept us out of trouble,” Norman said.
The fixtures of King’s Den have now been sold, including the barber chairs, mirrors, barber pole and the chairs used by customers waiting for haircuts. Not sold were the trinket games and puzzles which customers – particularly the young ones – reached for to occupy their time as they waited for their turn in the chair. Haircuts were $13 when Norman retired.
Never at a loss for words, Norman was known for having a parting comment to prompt a chuckle from his customers before they walked out the door. Among his favorites, was “First your money, then your clothes… That’s the way she goes.”
Norman and his wife of 65 years, Dolly, have two sons: Mel and Marvin “Buster,” four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.