Putting away the clippers
Perhaps it’s a sign of changing times in Truckee: One of two barbershops in town is closing down, and it will re-open as a real estate office.
Ed Rocca, a 73-year-old Truckee resident and owner of Martis Village Barber Shop, will be leaving town for good after 11 years of cutting men’s hair. It will leave only one barber in Truckee: John Curtis at Manstyle Barbers.
“I’m leaving a customer base behind, and they’re pretty angry,” said Rocca, the one-man operation behind Martis Village Barber Shop. “I have mixed emotions about that. It disturbs me a little bit to leave my trade and my people behind.”
Rocca will leave more than 200 regulars when he and his wife, Gail, retire in the Bay Area to be closer to their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Rocca said most of his clientele will likely drive to Incline Village or Reno to get their hair cut by a barber.
As a second-generation barber, Rocca has had his barbering license for more than 50 years. At some point in the middle of his career, he got into the real estate and mortgage business.
But the hours got to him, and when he moved to Truckee 11 years ago he returned to barbering, working at Manstyle Barbers in downtown Truckee. After a year or so at Manstyle, Rocca started Martis Village Barber Shop.
Rocca knows he’s part of a dying breed. Barbers aren’t just thinning out in Truckee; it’s a nationwide phenomenon. Between 1960 and 2001, the number of licensed barbers fell by 48 percent, while the number of cosmetologists rose by 213 percent, according to U.S. Census figures.
“Most of the young people who get involved in it get into the hairstyling end of it. It’s much more lucrative,” Rocca said.
He tried to recruit a barber to fill his Martis Village Barber Shop location after his retirement without any luck.
Curtis, of Manstyle Barbers, has been trying to fill his second barber chair for 26 years, with no long-term success. He said he can’t find any dependable help, despite the allures of barbering.
“There’s not too many jobs where you can go to school for less than one year and you can get out and make $50,000 a year,” he said.
But in a business without supply, there is definitely demand for a local barber. On Thursday morning, Curtis said he had six people on a list waiting for cancellations and no openings until 12:30 p.m. next Wednesday.
“It’s unbelievable. I’m getting slammed,” Curtis said.
Barbering is a complicated trade, not so much in the haircutting part of it, but more so in the psychology of dealing with clients, Rocca said. He tries to judge what his clients want to discuss ” whether it be sports, church, growth in Truckee ” and sometimes they don’t want to talk at all.
“Some of the clients just want to rest,” he said. “I can tell by their demeanor.”
But with the talkers, he has learned to be versatile, talking to one client about hunting and the next about grandchildren. The slow-paced experience and the type of cut are what separates a barbershop from a salon, Rocca said.
“Most of the older generation feel more comfortable in the barbershop setting, getting a regular haircut rather than getting the styling,” he said.
But Rocca has had some youngsters pass through his shop, too.
“Young fellas like the spikes and the messed up look, and that’s fine,” he said. “The styles come and go.”
But there is one style Rocca doesn’t like.
“I don’t like the bowl cut,” he said. “To me, it isn’t an expression of the art … There’s not much to it.”
There’s a small white card on Rocca’s wall that announces his retirement: “Notice. Retiring Aug. 1, 2005. Will miss you all.”
Despite his history in Truckee ” and the fact that his exit from barbering means the profession is only one step closer to its death knell ” Rocca isn’t getting too sappy about his exit.
“Some of my older gentlemen got a little blurry-eyed about it, but that’s OK. They’ll get over it,” he said quietly. “There are certainly mixed emotions about leaving, but you just gotta put it behind you and move on.”
Rocca smiled, adding, “Plus, we got a nice price for our house.”