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Charges $3 for Full Service : Barber Cuts No Corners at Vintage N. Dakota Shop

Times Staff Writer

No one would call Martin Skrede’s barbershop a clip joint.

Skrede, who has been cutting hair in the same shop for 70 years, charges $3, and he has little respect for those who charge more.

“Too many barbers today put you in the chair, swing you around once or twice--a few snips here, a few snips there. That’s it,” Skrede, 90, said with a snort as he clipped the hair of Vern Stotts, the town mailman.

“Then they charge $7 to $10. It’s highway robbery.”

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A sign on his window proclaims: “Barber Shop and Baths.”

“I knocked off the bath four years ago,” the spindly, spunky nonagenarian said. “Everybody owns their own shower nowadays.

Two Showers in Shop

“Back in ’27, I installed the first hot-water heater in the county and put two showers in my barbershop. At the time, each farm around here had 15- to 18-horse teams with one or two men to run each team. It was a big work force. Those men would come to my shop to shower after working all day.”

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He charged 35 cents for a shower. But big plows and combines did away with horses, and the popularity of Skrede’s showers slowed to a trickle. A few stragglers still showered in his shop as late as 1980.

Skrede’s shop in this town of 210 persons is vintage 1930s. Dust-covered bottles, jars and cans with faded labels line his walls.

Feen-a-Mint laxative, Ben Gay rub for aches and pains, cod liver oil, bottles and jars of medicine, boxes filled with bobby pins, dozens of baby bottles, gallon jugs of hair tonic and shaving lotion are on display. And all are for sale at 1930s prices.

“Everything was so cheap during the Dirty Thirties (as he calls the Great Depression) that I stocked up heavy,” Skrede said. “Guess I bought enough to keep me goin’ as long as I live.”

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Fifty-year-old signs for Wildroot hair cream and Vitalis oil hang on the walls of his shop.

‘It’s Hotter Than Heck’

He picked up a gallon bottle of “Locust Blossom Best Shaving since 1847,” splashed some of the liquid into his hands and rubbed it on postman Stotts’ face.

“It’s hotter than heck, but it really refreshes ‘em,” Skrede said. Stotts agreed.

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Skrede started cutting hair in Starkweather in 1915, not long after he came to North Dakota from Norway. Some residents--including farmers Fred and William Overbo, 84-year-old twins--have been customers since the shop opened.

Original Price 50 Cents

Skrede charged 50 cents for a haircut when he started, then lowered the price to 25 cents in the 1930s. The price went to a half-dollar in the 1940s and a dollar from 1950 until three years ago, when he raised it to $2 and a month later to $3.

“I enjoy every haircut I give,” Skrede said. “Everybody’s head of hair is different, a challenge. It tests your skills. Cutting hair keeps me on my toes. I do my best every time.”

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He hopes that when his time comes to bid the world goodby, he will have a pair of clippers in his hands.


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