A downtown Wahpeton landmark began August with a new look, both inside and outside.
The Gazette Barber Shop, 516 Dakota Ave., recently opened under its new name. Formerly known as Rich’s Barber Shop, the Gazette was renamed in recognition of the building’s historical status.
Forerunner to the Daily News, the Wahpeton Globe-Gazette was published on the 500 block of Dakota Avenue. The Gazette Barber Shop is believed to be on the site of the actual newspaper office, which operated on the building’s second floor.
A Globe-Gazette sign overlooks First Avenue North, Wahpeton. Barber Jon Stuehrenberg is hoping to acquire it from Danielle Kutter, owner of the neighboring Tangled Hair Studio.
“If we can have a sale, my plan is to hang the sign right on Dakota Avenue. I’d like to have it repurposed and refurbished,” Stuehrenberg said.
With its new name, the Gazette Barber Shop is coming back to its roots.
“I’m told we’re the oldest remaining barber shop in Wahpeton now,” Stuehrenberg, 31, said.
Nearly two years ago, Stuehrenberg entered a partnership with Richard Hills, one of the shop’s previous namesakes.
“Founded by Earl Holly in the 1930s, the barbershop was taken over by Vern Bakken in 1955,” Southern Valley Living reported in 2018. “Bakken remained in charge for 57 years, until 2012.”
Hills, 69, said it’s been a smooth transition between himself and Stuehrenberg.
“I’m working my 10 hours in the week, with just a couple hours each morning,” Hills said. “Jon’s taking over the shop now and he’s doing a great job with the remodel.”
The remodel began Friday, July 31, Stuehrenberg said. It started with the removal of a drop ceiling, followed by tearing off wainscoting and getting a wall stripped down to its plaster.
Fully removing the plaster took several days of work, but the result is an eye-catching exposed brick wall.
“We’ve got the brick exposed and the tin ceiling is still kind of a work in progress,” Stuehrenberg said. “I’ll need to get some paint stripper, so we can continue to remove it off the ceiling. There’s a little trim work and a couple little electrical things to take care of.”
Overall, Stuehrenberg is pleased with how his renovations went.
“The plaster did not come easily off the wall, but it’s gone now,” he said.
Now that the Gazette Barber Shop is operating under its new name, Stuehrenberg is refocusing his attention on customers. Haircare, which doesn’t have a peak season, is one of the numerous industries impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There’s been some ups and downs. It definitely seems a little slower with everything that’s going on,” Stuehrenberg said. “Overall, I’m pretty happy with how business has been. It’s been steady.”
When North Dakota and Minnesota businesses were required to temporarily close in an effort to control the coronavirus’ spread, Stuehrenberg said he was expecting it would only last two weeks at most.
“It turned out to be six weeks and I kinda wondered what it would be like when we got back to work,” he said.
Daily News interviewed Stuehrenberg just before the May 1 reopening. Measures like the barbers wearing masks would continue to be taken, the paper stated.
More than three months later, the Gazette Barber Shop continues to follow recommendations from the state of North Dakota and other relevant agencies.
“We do recommend wearing masks, but the North Dakota State Board of Barbers does not require that our customers have one,” Stuehrenberg said. “They do understand that it may be hard to work around the ears if they have a mask on. However, they are still encouraging wearing one.”
Hand sanitizer is also available for Gazette Barber Shop customers. Ultimately, though, it’s Stuehrenberg and Hills who are leading the necessary hygiene work.
“We sanitize every surface that might have been touched by the customer, taking the time for extra cleanups between each cut,” Stuehrenberg said.
Throughout its history, the barber shop has been a hub of activity, Southern Valley Living previously reported.
“I grew up in Breckenridge,” Stuehrenberg said. “Rich heard there was a gentleman in town going to school for barbering. Some friends of ours mentioned I should talk to him, so that’s how we got together.”
Stuehrenberg and Hills’ affection and pride in their profession endures.
“You can give a customer a bad haircut once,” Stuehrenberg said previously. “But if they’ve got a good relationship with you, they’re almost guaranteed to come back.”
A key element wasn’t forgotten in the transition from Rich’s Barber Shop to the Gazette Barber Shop. The Gazette still has its functioning red, white and blue barber pole.
“(The colors) can represent everything from the nation’s flag to the barber’s earlier role as a healer,” Southern Valley Living previously reported. “Whenever a barber pole’s in motion, Hills said, it means the barbers are in.”
Most customers, Hills said in 2018, get their haircuts nearly every five weeks.
“The regular customers, they don’t mind waiting a little bit,” he said. “They like to drop in and get educated. Barbershops, you know, provide that continued education.”
In the fall of 2018, Stuehrenberg was a recent graduate of Moler Barber College, Fargo. His partnership with Hills, the older man said previously, was a great opportunity for a young man coming in to keep the shop open and offer a traditional style of barbering.
“We had plans right from the beginning that Jon would take over and I’d be working less,” Hills said.
Stuehrenberg and Hills have an arrangement that’s working out well for them. Asked about whether or not the Gazette would ever hire additional barbers, Stuehrenberg was philosophical.
“Oh, at some point, maybe down the road,” he said. “It’s hard to say. It would probably depend on once Rich makes the decision to fully retire, or another barber in the area closed and we had even more customers. I imagine we would need to bring in another barber then. It’s still early, but possible.”