Merrill barber about to cap 50-year career

When Colin Daul closes up shop on Sept. 30 he will have given his last haircut at Daul’s Sixth Ward Barbershop, capping a 50-year career.

“I’m going to miss the people, the conversations and the friendships we’ve established,” Colin said. “Thank you for letting me be of service to you. It’s been a good business, I must have been doing something right.”

Colin ran his barber shop by the principle of the “Three C’s.”

“You give a good cut with a good conversation and you’ll get a good client out of it,” he said.

He added that he has a few customers who have been with him the entire 50 years.

While he’ll miss his customers, Colin is looking forward to the freedom that comes with retirement.

“When you’re self-employed you don’t get away as much as you’d like,” he said. “I don’t think I took five weeks off in the first 30 years I was here.”

Daul graduated from Marshfield Columbus High School in 1961 and headed off to Peoria Barber College in Peoria, Ill, that September. He was inspired to take that career path by his great uncle Louie, who owned a barber shop in Marshfield.

“I saw you could make a living at it,” Colin said.

In Peoria, his $500 tuition included a quality set of barbering tools and 10 months of hands-on instruction.

“You read for three days and then went into the free room,” he remembers.

In the “free room,” novice barbers gave free haircuts to homeless men. As they got better at the trade, they moved up to giving haircuts that cost 25 cents, until close to graduation they were charging a full $1.25 for their haircuts.

Upon graduation for barber college, Colin found an apprenticeship in Merrill with Leonard Smith in a small shop in the Sixth Ward – the same shop where he would work his entire career.

“I had the names of six shops looking for an apprentice and I chose Merrill,” Colin said. “I started here in July of 1962. This is the only place I’ve ever worked.”

Colin apprenticed for Smith for 6 years. When Smith passed away in 1968, Colin bought the shop.

In the early days of his career, Colin did shaves, shampoo and haircuts.

“A haircut cost $1.25 when I came here and now it’s $13. If you do the math, the price has gone up an average of 20 cents per year,” Colin said.

The shop’s hours were six days a week, and stayed open until 9 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays.

“The longest I ever worked on a Friday was from 8 a.m. until 10 till 11 at night,” Colin said.

Back in those days, customers didn’t call for an appointment, but rather just showed up at the shop and waited their turn in the chair. The barber stayed until the last man had been sheared.

“Friday night was a big thing, sometimes we had a dozen people waiting,” Colin said. “There was a lot of farms in those days and Friday night was the night to do your shopping, then come to the barber shop. I pulled the shades at 9 p.m. and I was lucky to get out by 9:30.”

Working long hours at the shop, Colin was grateful for the support of his wife Margie, who he had met in Merrill.

“The reason this shop was successful was that I had a wife at home who took care of things with the kids,” he said.

Over the years Colin had four apprentices of his own, all of whom went on into the barber business.

In the mid-1980s, Colin remodeled the shop and turned it into a one-chair operation. He also instituted an appointment system at about that same time.

The barbering business has changed over the past 50 years. At one point there were 14 barber shops in town. With Colin’s retirement, only two remain. Salons have taken over much of the men’s haircut trade.

Before the era of appointments, the local barber shop was a social place for men.

“Guys would sit around and chat,” Colin said. “It was a men’s gathering place, especially on Friday nights. We did most of our business on Friday and Saturday.”

When Colin took over the shop, he eliminated the Wednesday nights and stayed open on Thursday afternoons, which were previously his afternoon off.

He then started taking Saturdays off during the summer, which eventually led to closing the shop on Saturdays year-round.

“And I still put in 50-hour weeks,” he said.

Starting in 2008, he went down to a four-day week with Mondays off.

Colin will still be busy in retirement running Snow Hill Tree Farm, a Christmas tree business he and Margie planted in 1995. They made their first harvest in 2005 and have been steadily growing the business since.

“That’s a labor of love,” Colin said. “If you don’t like work, don’t do it.”

As for the barber shop, the property has been sold to SSG Corporation, owners of the neighboring Holiday gas station. The building will be removed to make way for expanded parking and better access to the station. Originally a restaurant, the building has been a barber shop since the late 1940s.

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