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Gentlemen’s Quarters: A step back in time

The door creaks as another man in need of a trim steps inside Gentlemen’s Quarters and back in time. All four seats are taken on a recent Friday morning. The barbershop takes walk-ins only, and nobody seems to mind waiting.

The whir of Todd Frei’s clippers and Keith Edward’s jokes fill a room decorated with a buffalo head, a collection of straight razors and old shotguns held up by taxidermied deer hooves.

“The small town feel. That’s why we come here,” said Ty Obenoskey, a loyal customer for 12 years. “Grounding. I can sit in either one of those chairs, and I don’t have to say a word, and they know how to cut my hair.”



It’s sacred ground for these men, mostly over 50, who come to bond and trade information.

“It’s a good news source,” said Frei, the newest owner of Gentlemen’s Quarters, located at 110 W. Main St. in Grass Valley.




The classic looks can all be found here: Flat tops, brush cuts, fades, tapers, high in tights (for that just-out-of-boot-camp look), flat-top boogies, businessman’s cut and the most popular gentlemen’s styles.

You can’t beat the price: $12 for a haircut, $17 for a haircut and beard trim. With a cut, trims for mustaches and goatees are free.

The nostalgia comes free, too, taking clients back to an era when nobody went longer than two weeks without a trim.

Back to basics

Frei remembers coming to this same barbershop with his grandpa on Saturdays when he was a boy. He jumped at the chance to buy the business when he discovered it for sale in May.

He bought it from Mary Brenner, who had the shop for one year and five months. Before that, Roger Barnes was the barber everyone knew for 22 years.

Frei kept the same name. Much of the former owners’ collections remain on the wall.

Frei has been working six days a week to get acquainted with his new customers and win back some old-timers.

“A lot of people stopped coming because (the former owner) was a lady. Nothing against her, but they assumed the barbershop was going out the window,” Frei said. “Now with me and Keith, they’re starting to all come back.”

Barbering is a male-dominated profession. At Molers Barber College in Oakland, where Frei studied, 96 percent of enrolled students are men.

Untangled talent

Frei didn’t discover his talent for hair until his 20s, after he dropped out of veterinary school. He took up cosmetology and excelled at color, weaves and highlights. He’s been cutting hair since 1991.

For a time, he competed on L’oreal’s Matrix hair products teams, where he traveled to various cities for hair shows and demonstrated looks on models.

“I know a lot of new styles, so I can pretty much do any haircut,” Frei said. But he longed for something simpler than women’s hairstyling.

“Women are hard to deal with. They never know what they want,” Frei said. So he opened a barbershop in Marysville that he ran for 12 years but sold due to rising rent.

Now, the tools of his trade include Oster 76 clippers with changeable blades, three pairs of scissors and a straight razor to give a nice clean outline.

“We’re one of the only shops in town that still uses a straight razor. A lot of people like the way it feels. Wham-bam shops don’t do it,” Frei said.

Stories to tell

Now, most clients are retired gentlemen who come in every three weeks. For many of them, the visit is more than just a haircut: It’s a social gathering.

“A lot of guys have been coming here for 20 years, and it’s the only barbershop they’ve been coming to,” Frei said.

Customers get a kick out of the photograph he stores in a protective plastic pocket showing a very tan, blonde and rippled Frei flexing during a competition.

Frei, now 37, was a body builder for three years, winning the title of second national qualifier.

“I just did it for fun,” said Frei.

A single father of two, Frei said the competing became too much, and he quit in January. He still lives near Marysville and makes the long commute six days a week. He’s hoping to move to the Grass Valley area soon.

New chair in the future

Business is how it should be when scissors are snipping, the two barber chairs are kept warm with a steady flow of customers, and Edwards is making everyone laugh

“I’ve got a bad memory. Every time I come to work, it’s like meeting new people,” said Edwards, causing the room to erupt with laughter.

As for future plans, Frei wants to add one more chair and keep building his base.

“Try to rebuild business and provide good service. That’s what everyone wants,” said Frei.

ooo

To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail laurab@theunion.com.

Where to find it

Gentlemen’s Quarters is located at 110 W. Main St. in Grass Valley, near William’s Stationary. Look for the red-white-and-blue striped barber pole out front.

Hours: Monday through Thursday: 8:30 a.m. Ð 5:30 p.m., Friday: 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m, Saturday: 8 a.m. Ð 2 p.m. Close on Sundays. No appointments.

For more information, call 273-5835.

– Laura Brown


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