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Tom Ross: Take this haircut and Shovick

Steamboat landmark counting down the days

August is a wonderful month to plan a family reunion in Steamboat Springs.

You can organize an excursion to the top of the gondola for a picnic amid the late summer wildflowers at 9,000 feet. You can rent a party boat at Steamboat Lake and troll deep for trout as the sun sets over Meaden Peak.

Some families stand at the corner of Sixth Street and Lincoln Avenue to see how long it takes to cross Steamboat’s main drag without the help of a traffic signal.



Still others head down to Fourth Street for one last glance at an old-fashioned barber shop.

Three generations of the Ted and Mona Armstrong clan squeezed into Ken and Jane Shovick’s Family Barbershop on Wednesday to reminisce about haircuts gone by. The Family Barbershop closes forever Sept. 22.



Ken and Jane have been wielding their clippers in Steamboat for a couple of decades, but Ken’s association with the Armstrongs goes back further.

Tom Armstrong of Steamboat Springs, age somewhere north of 49, was just 4 years old when his father, Ted, took him into Ken’s barbershop in Sheridan for his first haircut.

“It was 46 years ago, so he has to be 50 years old,” Ken shouts to the noon crowd waiting for haircuts. He wants to be certain that no one misses his point.

Ted was the mayor of Sheridan in 1960 (he has since retired to Grand Lake) and he took his little boy to the barbershop across Hampden Avenue from the VFW.

In 1960, haircuts for children cost six bits (that’s 75 cents for you members of the Millennium Generation). Ken never failed to hand out pieces of Bazooka bubble gum to the little tykes. No extra charge.

In 1960, Bobby Darin sang “Mack the Knife,” and Ken Shovick hummed “Mack the Scissors.” John F. Kennedy narrowly defeated Richard Nixon in the presidential election, and Ken probably told jokes about both candidates regardless of who was sitting in his chair at the moment.

That was the year Bill Mazeroski hit a walk-off home run in the seventh game of the World Series to help the Pirates defeat the Yankees in seven games. Shovick probably lost a bet that day.

Also that year, Shovick, a native of Northern Wisconsin, watched Norm Van Brocklin quarterback the Philadelphia Eagles to an NFL championship win against the Green Bay Packers (there was no such thing as the Super Bowl).

When Ken and Jane moved to Steamboat to take over the barbershop, Tom Armstrong came here, too, so he could continue getting regular haircuts and his twice monthly ration of verbal abuse from Ken.

Or maybe it was the other way around. Perhaps when Tom Armstrong moved to Steamboat Springs — he ultimately opened Mountain Paint and Supply — the Shovicks relocated here, too.

That way, Ken could continue cutting Tom’s full head of hair. Tom’s three sons have had their hair cut by Ken, too. Son Danny, all grown up now, had his first trim from Ken when he was 5.

He visited the shop with his grandparents last week, and his grandmother recalled his first trip to Shovick’s chair.

“Danny didn’t cry, but he didn’t like it either,” Mona Armstrong said.

I can relate. I didn’t cry the last time Ken Shovick cut my hair either.

New customers, who haven’t got Mr. Shovick figured out, can be easily intimidated by his gruff exterior.

A young newspaper hack might come through the door to hear Shovick announcing, “Here comes the press! Watch what you say, it could end up in the newspaper!”

Then he qualifies his warning by saying, “On the other hand, don’t worry too much, he’ll probably misspell your name.”

Barbers are born with the gift of gab, but only Ken could spend the duration of a haircut reminding a reporter of every typographical error he had committed in the previous month.

“Did you guys fire your copy editor?” he inquires gently.

Ken’s redeeming quality is that he loves to be insulted. Late last winter I asked him whether he was still trying to get his Flowbee out of hock over at the pawn shop.

Ken knows exactly what a Flowbee is. For $66.95, a Flowbee allows purchasers to cut their hair at home with a device that combines the suction power of a vacuum cleaner with modern hair trimming technology. “You can even cut your hair with your eyes closed,” the Web page boasts.

So, go ahead. I dare you. Sit down in Ken’s chair tomorrow (they aren’t open on Mondays) and when he asks how you want your hair cut, mumble something about a Flowbee. You’re going to like your haircut.

Have fun with Ken, but a word of warning: whatever you do, don’t ever refer to Ken as a stylist.

You have between now and Sept. 21 to visit Ken and Jane. You can trade insults with Ken even if Jane happens to be cutting your hair.

If Ken and Jane haven’t cut your hair at least 500 times, don’t bother showing up on Sept. 22.

“We’re only giving haircuts to regulars that day,” Jane cautions.

The closing of the Family Barbershop will mark the end of an era in downtown Steamboat. And I’m going to miss Ken and Jane. Well, mostly I’m going to miss Jane.


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