Red Deer barber Stuart Beach will be retiring after 43 years in the business at the end of May. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff)

Red Deer barber Stuart Beach will be retiring after 43 years in the business at the end of May. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff)

Red Deer barber to hang up his clippers after 43 years

Stuart Beach said the pandemic factored into his decision to retire

From mullets to muttonchops and beards, Stuart Beach has seen many hirsute trends come and go during his four decades as a barber in downtown Red Deer.

After 43 years, Beach is planning to hang up his clippers at the end of the month when he retires from his job at Central Alberta Barbers.

He will bid a bittersweet farewell to many customers he’s known for years. “In some cases, it’s three generations,” said Beach, who’s gone from trimming the locks of dads to their sons and grandsons.

The downtown barber has gotten to know many people on a personal level. Just as customers tend to confide in bartenders, he’s heard his clients spill their worries, hopes and dreams at the shop downstairs at the Towne Centre Mall on Ross Street.

“I try not to give any advice, I just listen,” said Beach.

While he’s also attempted to avoid politics and religion, this has been much harder in the polarized climate of recent years when the pandemic has split people into different camps. “I have to bite my lip,” Beach admitted — “sometimes, hard.”

It was COVID-19 that cemented his decision to retire. “There’s never been a better time,” said Beach, who’s seen fewer people venture downtown since 2020.

Over the past few months, some shaggy customers who haven’t had their hair cut since the pandemic started have shown up at the shop he rents space in. But between some core-area businesses leaving for Gasoline Alley, the opioid epidemic stoking public fear, and the pandemic keeping more people home, business has fallen off “and I hate to stand around with nothing to do…”

Although there are recent signs of downtown regeneration, including the recent sale of the post office building, Beach has also been feeling his own mortality, having recently lost his brother and turned 65.

He would like to share more pursuits with his wife, local writer and editor Kimmy Beach. The couple plan to travel, and Beach also wants to do more gardening and fishing.

The Weyburn, Sask.-area native became barber through a one-year program in 1977, when haircuts went for $7.50 instead of the current $25.

He initially came to Calgary wanting to become a paramedic, but pay inequities in the industry at the time discouraged him and he switched to barbering instead. (He noted barbers in the Middle Ages also handled surgery and dentistry, so this transition wouldn’t have been eyebrow-raising, historically.)

Beach, who soon moved to Red Deer at the invitation of a good friend, has also been a singer since childhood. He became the city’s singing barber from the late 1980s to the early 2000s, when he often performed in Red Deer College and community theatre productions.

In 1988, he met his wife, Kimmy, while she was a stage manager at Red Deer College’s Mainstage.

Among his biggest roles were the lead in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and the Major General in Pirates of Penzance.

Beach also put in a lot of volunteer hours cutting actors’ hair in various stage productions, observing historical hair trends — from pirate ponytails, to muttonchops and other kinds of sideburns, to the gelled locks of the 1920s and ’30s. For a time, Edmonton’s Citadel theatre paid him to create hairstyles for some of their plays.

In his shop, styles have come and gone, including Beatles-inspired mop-tops of the late 1970s, the party-in-the-back, business-at-the-front mullets of the 1980, and goatee beards of the early 2000s. Beach believes large, full beards have never been as popular as they are now.

It was the gelled and permed hair trends of several decades ago that first led many men to cross over from barbershops to hair salons, but Beach believes the barbering tradition will carry on.

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