When a patron walks into Monte Gibson's barber shop, the nostalgia of old-fashioned barber chairs and the atmosphere of camaraderie immediately greets them.
On a Friday afternoon, Gibson is talking to a regular customer while trimming his hair, while his new barber, Bailey Hamel, is sweeping up after his most recent hair and beard trim. The banter and conversation flows, and laughter and smiles are plentiful.
"It kind of gives that old feel to a barber shop too, which is kind of nice," said Hamel while sweeping and getting his station ready for the next customer. "When people come in here, it's like you are back in that time of the traditional barber shop. We have the old chairs. These are traditional barber chairs. This place really has that traditional feel of a barber shop."
Hamel began working in Monte's Barber Shop approximately six months ago. He has been cutting hair for six years and attended Phagans' Cosmetology College in Bend, graduating from the Barbering Program. Phagans' also has campuses in Medford, Corvallis, Grants Pass and Salem in addition to Bend.
Hamel began his journey into barbering when he was in high school, and he cut his friend's hair, dad's hair, and his own as well.
"I started with just a beard trimmer, and I cut my own hair. Then I cut my dad's hair, and he recommended barbering," explained Hamel of his beginnings in the hair business. "I never had heard of barbering; I didn't really know it was a career and never had got my hair cut by a barber before. I really fell in love with it by cutting my friend's hair in my senior year of high school."
As soon as he graduated from high school, he went right into the barbering program and graduated in June of the next year. His first position as a barber was in Madras, where he worked for a little more than four years.
"I would say the most rewarding thing is probably talking to the people that you come in contact with and the stories you hear--and building relationships with people."
Hamel said that he fell in love with the art of barbering and cutting hair, but he has learned to enjoy talking to people and building relationships even more. He said that although he loves cutting hair, it can be a challenge dealing with different hair, because everyone has different kinds of hair and it all lays differently.
"In barbering, everybody is different, we are all different and we all have our things we like and don't like, and I think that is probably the hardest part--adapting to your clientele."
He added that the shop is the storytelling place, and one of the things he really likes about the shop.
"People are comfortable enough to come in here and sit down and talk and enjoy each other's company. You never know which way the conversation is going to go, and it's nice. It makes it kind of interesting," added Hamel.
He is originally from Tillamook and moved to Central Oregon to attend barbering school. He remained in the area, working in Madras and Prineville after he finished school.
"I am very meticulous about my work, and I like to do the best job I can. If I hear how someone wants their cut, I want it as ideal to what they are looking for as possible, so that is something I take pride in," Hamel emphasized.
He added that he tries to ask lots of questions to find what his customers want. He cuts many different kinds of hair.
"I have cut anywhere from tight curly hair to very straight or thin—there are different kinds of hair types and hair styles, and I feel like I have done most of them."
"I was lucky to get him, because I needed the help. He is doing a good job, and I am happy with him," Gibson said of his new barber.
Gibson has had the shop on North Main Street for 37 years. His father, Babe Gibson, was also a barber for 44 years, working in Bend and Burns. Gibson also worked for a short time in his dad's shop in Bend prior to establishing the shop in Prineville. Included in the legacy are Gibson's uncle, his grandfather on his mother's side, and two of his brothers.
All of Gibson's family members who later became barbers went to barber college—some in California and some in Oregon. In all, his family has an accumulation of more than 100 years of barbering to their credit.
Gibson went to Executive Barber College in Portland and graduated in 1968. In addition to barbering, his family also has been active in raising and racing racehorses. Gibson had a brother and a cousin who were jockeys.
"We are into cutting hair and running horses," pointed out Gibson with a smile.
He recalled that when he graduated from barber school, new graduates had to do an apprenticeship before they became an official barber or obtained their "journey license."
"My dad said, 'Now, if you are going to do it, do it right or don't do it at all,'" he said.
When answering what has changed, Gibson replied that he has not changed too many things and still takes walk-in appointments only.
"We painted the walls," Gibson laughed about changes he has made in his 37 years, showing his enduring sense of humor and steady, but sure way of doing things.
"We don't use the hand clippers anymore. We use electric," he added with a big smile.
Monte Gibson's Barber Shop
801 N. Main St.
Hours: Monte Gibson, Tuesday-Saturday
8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Bailey Hamel: Tuesday-Thursday
8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
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