After 50 years, Missouri barber gives final haircut

Monday, June 28, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 8:40 a.m. CDT, Monday, June 28, 2010

MEXICO, Mo. — Except for the sign on the door, you wouldn't know that Arens Appointment Barber Shop is closed.

A yellow box of Ship-Shape Comb and Brush Cleaner lies open on the counter between the chairs. A small gumball machine sits in the windowsill looking out toward Promenade Street.

Then, there's the sign hanging on the door: "RETIREMENT!"

After cutting hair on Promenade for more than 50 years, Bob Arens recently gave his final haircut.

Arens said he is retiring because of health issues. He uses a wheelchair and had trouble getting in and out of his shop but said he would have kept cutting hair if he could.

"If you enjoy your work, it's not work," he said. "I just couldn't take it anymore."

Arens said he plans to relax and enjoy life. He said he wanted to do many things in his retirement, but his disability limits his travel.

"It's very disheartening," he said. "But that's the cards I was dealt, so I've got to live with it."

Dave Wilburn, agent for American Family Insurance on Jefferson Street, said Arens was a good friend and an important part of the downtown business community.

"We're just going to miss stopping in and visiting," Wilburn said. "He's been a real encouragement, and his hanging in there for such a long time is an inspiration. How do you plan for the last of anything?"

Arens said he didn't announce when his last cut would be because many people would have tried to be his last appointment.

"I don't announce because I work by appointment," Arens said. "I really hate to go out in that way, but if you set a date, that word gets out, and I couldn't have done it."

Mexico resident Jeff Stathem was the one in the barber chair for that final cut. He said Arens has been cutting his hair for about five years and that he had just made his appointment the day before. Arens called him to come in a half hour early for his appointment but didn't tell him he was the last one.

"I kind of thought it was an honor," Stathem said. "Bob's a good guy, and he's got a spirit of excellence about cutting hair."

Arens began cutting hair on Promenade Street on February 9, 1960, at the age of 20. He had just finished high school in Montgomery City and had worked as an apprentice in St. Louis for a few months but wanted to work in a smaller town.

"You can take a country boy to the city, but you can't take the country out of the boy," he said.

He worked as an apprentice at the three-chair Dixon Barber Shop, where he had gotten his first haircut at the age of 3. In 1970, he took over ownership of the shop. He worked on the south side of Promenade Street until the Citizens Savings expansion forced him to move across the street. He said he enjoyed working in Mexico's downtown.

"It's a nice street," he said. "It just has nice people and is in a really nice area."

Arens said the best part of his work was his customers. He said he probably took less than 10 weeks vacation in his 50 years of work because he wanted to be there for them. He remembers cutting hair of many people who worked at the A.P. Green and National brick refractories.

"I've probably traveled the world more than anybody else through other people's eyes, but I never traveled myself that much," he said. "The clientele I had was superb."

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