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Cliff’s Barber Shop and Photos from the Clifford E. Johnson collection

You may have noticed that Cliff’s Barber Shop in West Duluth is for sale. The proprietor, Clifford E. Johnson, died two years ago. I took the photo above in April, when Cliff’s shop was being cleared out after an estate sale.

At the estate sale were boxes upon boxes of old slides. Most of them were of vacations to Hawaii and so on, but I found two boxes that had some local images, so I plopped down $10 and brought them home for a slide show. The fine folks at Swim Creative have scanned a few of them for me to share on PDD.

The photos I’m presenting today are from a box dated “1964″ and titled “Myrtle and Bill’s Trip to Minn.” All of the shots I’ve chosen feature a guy I’m pretty sure is Cliff.

[UPDATE: It turns out, it's not Cliff. According to Cliff's son, Tom, all the family photos were removed from the slide collection, and he doesn't know who the guy is in these shots.]

I only knew Cliff briefly — he cut my hair about three times when he was 77ish years old. In these photos he would be about 45, if it’s him. [But it's not.]

[Now, as for the real Cliff Johnson ...]

The photo at left is actually of Cliff. It’s from his obituary. Cliff took over his father’s barber shop in 1953 and closed it in 2008. He was famous for only knowing how to do one haircut — his. No matter what instructions you gave him about how to cut your hair, you would end up with a flattop. But it was a perfect flattop. Cliff was a perfectionist.

My favorite memory of Cliff is that he would tell me long jokes and then put his clipper right next to my ear when he told the punchline, so I couldn’t hear it over the buzzing.

He also gave me a great piece of advice about marriage. He said a lot of people think it’s a 50/50 give-and-take thing. “Marriage is almost never 50/50,” he told me. “You’re always picking each other up. So sometimes you give 90 percent and get back 10. Sometimes it’s the other way around. That’s how marriage really works.”

Well said, Cliff.

The other images from Cliff’s basement I’ll be sharing are scenes of Duluth from 1962. Look for them in future posts.

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22 Comment(s)

  1. Are there other classical barber shops like that still around today in Duluth?

    Chris | Jul 9, 2011 | New Comment
  2. Woodland Barber shop (around the corner from Sala Thai) and Central Entrance by Arlington are both open for biz. Woodland is only open Tue, Wed, Thur, however.

    TimK | Jul 9, 2011 | New Comment
  3. Floyd has a little shop on East 4th Street between 5th and 6th Ave beneath the barber’s pole. Consider stopping in for your next haircut. He’s a very nice guy running a classic business on the hillside.

    Maroon Loon | Jul 9, 2011 | New Comment
  4. That old bastard cut my hair once when I was a little kid. He didn’t give me a flattop, but he did ignore all instruction and buzz the hell out of me. The moment he took his first swipe with the clipper I started whimpering. He grabbed my head to hold it still and growled, “I’m not hurting you!” No, Cliff, you’re not hurting me, but you’re hurting my reputation. It’s 1980, for crying out loud. I got teased to no end for that haircut.

    Barrett Chase | Jul 9, 2011 | New Comment
  5. Oh, and while we’re on the subject of traditional barbershops, I’ll bring up this video of Starfire and me getting straight razor shaves at Piedmont Barbers in 2004. It was the first ever edition of “What’s It Like?” on PDD.

    Barrett Chase | Jul 9, 2011 | New Comment
  6. I can definitely vouch for the barber shop in Lakeside -- old wood paneling with many fish mounted -- all three barbers know their stuff and are very nice, and it’s fun to listen to clients gripe about politics, the weather or the economy. I started going there recently after years of mutilating my own hair with clippers.

    Ethan | Jul 9, 2011 | New Comment
  7. I like the Lakeside Barber Shop, too. They got a new “young” barber there a few years ago.

    But usually I visit Floyd on E 4th St. He is an excellent barber and good for a conversation. He did the latest gosling’s first cut and I wouldn’t have trusted it to anyone else.

    Central Avenue Barbers was taken over by “Bob the Barber” about 2yrs ago. He does great with hair but sometimes you need to stop back because the hours can be sporadic.

    wildgoose | Jul 10, 2011 | New Comment
  8. Cool. These are great recommendations!

    Chris | Jul 10, 2011 | New Comment
  9. I even had my hair cut there. I think it was the father, though. We used to live right up at the top of Polk Street, on 67th Avenue West.

    Liz Oliver Bunt | Jul 11, 2011 | New Comment
  10. I still remember going to Cliff’s when I was about 5 and getting my first buzz cut.

    Grampa was proud, and so was I. My hair was just like his.

    Well... | Jul 11, 2011 | New Comment
  11. I grew up a block away from Cliff’s and I got my first haircut from Cliff and every one there after until I was 15. I loved his old springer spaniel and his old pop machine from which I drank bottles of orange Crush and Hires root beer. My dad ran the M&C Gas station across the street. Cliff Johnson was a fine man and a good friend. He cared for his customers. I really miss him.

    Dennis | Jul 11, 2011 | New Comment
  12. That is Cliff in the pictures.

    Dennis | Jul 11, 2011 | New Comment
  13. Despite Dennis’ reassurance, it turns out it isn’t Cliff in the photos. It’s a mystery man. The post has been amended to reflect this.

    Paul Lundgren | Jul 12, 2011 | New Comment
  14. I hate it when I am wrong … sorry.

    Dennis | Jul 13, 2011 | New Comment
  15. That Myrtle is a doll.

    adam | Jul 14, 2011 | New Comment
  16. I was Cliffs’ paperboy from about 1953 to 1955.

    The crewcut buzzcut was the popular haircut at the time. Everybody knew that Cliff gave the best crewcut in town. His shop was always packed. He knew I was poor and that my mother usually cut my hair but when I could afford it, ($1) I would go, after my paper route, around 6 p.m. I was always the last customer.

    Cliff would give me hell for being late with the paper, but would also give me very good advice about grooming and business, knowing I couldn’t be a regular customer.

    Sixty years and a million haircuts later, Cliff is the only barber I remember.
    In 2010, I returned to Duluth for my 50th High School reunion. Driving down Grand Ave., I saw the sign for Cliffs’ Barber Shop.

    Thanks Cliff.

    Robert Niva | Oct 8, 2011 | New Comment
  17. I’ve lately been going to Center Barber on Third Avenue West and First Street (next to Erbert & Gerberts). Nice guys, father son.

    Question, Barrett, does Piedmont still do the straight shave and any idea on the cost? I know with weird insurance laws now, prices may have risen or the service may have been discontinued.

    De man | Jun 8, 2012 | New Comment
  18. This more recent video was shot at Piedmont Barbers six months ago, so it’s pretty likely they still do the straight shave there.

    At least one of the Russian guys at Bam Style will also do a straight shave.

    Paul Lundgren | Jun 8, 2012 | New Comment
  19. I’m just seeing these photos for the first time. They are so, so, so great. Thanks for posting them. I wish I had hung out with these people.

    emmadogs | Jun 8, 2012 | New Comment
  20. Thanks Paul.

    De man | Jun 8, 2012 | New Comment
  21. Don at Woodland Barbershop does a straight razor shave. I can’t remember what he charges, but I think it’s under $10.

    TimK | Jun 11, 2012 | New Comment
  22. The thing about straight-razor shaves is that there’s no way the barber can possibly know your face as well as you do, therefore the shave isn’t as perfect as you might expect. The best part of the shave is the whole experience — the series of hot towels, etc. is extremely relaxing. So don’t do it expecting a perfect shave. Do it because it makes you feel refreshed and clean.

    Barrett Chase | Jun 11, 2012 | New Comment

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