Meet Your Merchant | Celebrating 50 years in the barber business
October 22, 2013
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — This April, barber Louie Nieto celebrated 50 years of cutting hair. This October marked 21 years in his same location in Incline Village.
Louie runs what he calls a traditional barbershop. With the magazines, posters, bantering and bickering, Louie's Classic Barbershop captivates the barber culture.
"I want to make them feel that they can do or say whatever they want," Louie said. "It's about two buddies that rag on each other, getting into the kibitz."
ALWAYS A MARINE
“I don’t come here for just a haircut. I come here for entertainment.”
Customer at Louie’s Classic Barber Shop
Near a barber chair in the Louie's shop hangs a commemorative plate of John Wayne in his uniform and helmet. The plate is from "The Sands of Iwo Jima," a film Louie saw as a 12-year-old boy.
"I always kept that movie in my mind," he said.
Years later, Louie said he felt bored, and enlisted at age eighteen. He served three years of active duty and three years in the reserve of the Marine Corps.
After the service Louie spent a few years as a machinist, but said the job proved to be "too confined," and instead he used his GI Bill to pay for barber school.
"When you go into the military, it never leaves you," Louie said. "You're always going to have that rivalry."
So Marine Corps garb decorates the barbershop. Many of Louie's customers have also served, and the camaraderie and competition make for good teasing.
USING CLASSIC RESOURCES
In a cupboard near his license and first dollar bill, Louie pulls out his old barber college textbook.
The book, "Standardized Textbook of Barbering," is old and tattered, with a copyright date of 1961. Handwritten on the inside cover of what he calls barbers' "Bible book" is the date April 16th, 1963 — the day Louie finished barber college.
Each page has hand-drawn illustrations of styles like the crew cut, wash and wear, and the butch. The book's binding is broken, and old underlines and scribbles cover many of the pages. Louie said he uses it frequently.
"It's a good reference to go to," he said. "I get guys in their early 30s or 40s and they say, 'Give me the Little League' and I show them the pictures and they know exactly what I'm talking about."
Louie said hairstyles circle back about every two decades, and that throughout the years he has worn his hair from shoulder length to 'fro.
"Being the owner of the shop, I had to be the guinea pig," Louie said.
He put his hands out on the side of his head to illustrate: "When I picked it, my 'fro was out to here!"
'KEEP EVERYBODY LOOSE'
Through friendly banter and laughs, Louie said he promotes a good, relaxed atmosphere where "you got to keep everybody loose."
The man reverts back to the military position of "parade rest" while cutting hair. Feet shoulder distance apart and relaxed knees are the key to a profession being constantly on your feet, Louie said. The barber agrees that imagination is important as well.
"You have to listen to customers, put it together in your mind, and put it as he describes it into actuality," he said.
Ronn Lozner is a new customer of Louie's. Lozner recently moved to Incline from Florida, and the first thing he looked for was a barber.
"Finding someone to cut your hair is like finding a new doctor," Ronn said. "You have to find people you can trust."
Ronn said he "came in cold" to Louie's, introduced himself, and hasn't gone anywhere since.
"The word 'style' doesn't mean anything," he said. "The purpose of a barbershop is to cut your hair."
Ronn said Louie is always telling a joke or "busting someone's chops."
"I don't come here for just a haircut," Ronn said. "I come here for entertainment."
RIGHT FROM THE START
Outside the shop is a traditional barber who pole, which has been spinning red, white and blue stripes "24/7 for 21 years" Louie said.
Inside the shop, a large clock framed by an orange Coast Guard lifesaver hangs on the wall.
From the moment a customer walks in Louie is ready to start joking.
Louie sets the clock just a few minutes fast and when customers arrive for an appointment, Louie points to his clock and shakes his head.
"I'll tell them, 'You're late,' he said with a laugh.
Jenny Luna is a freelance reporter for the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza and Sierra Sun newspapers. She may be reached at email@example.com.