With passing of longtime former barber Ken Shovick in Grand Junction, Steamboat loses a genuine character
Steamboat Springs — Editor’s note: In memory of former longtime Steamboat Springs barber Ken Shovick, who died in Grand Junction Sept. 20, we’re re-running a column written by Steamboat Today reporter Tom Ross in August 2006, when haircuts at the Family Barber were still $12.
Shovick’s customers knew he had accepted them the moment he began showering them with good-natured insults and his wry jokes.
The column was published as Shovick and his partner in life and hair cutting, wife Jane, were preparing to close their business on Fourth Street, marking the end of an era in small town Steamboat.
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 even further.
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Tom Armstrong, of Steamboat Springs, age somewhere north of 49, was just four 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 Armstrong 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.
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 gotten 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 might qualify his warning by saying, “On the other hand, don’t worry too much; he’ll probably misspell your name.”
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. For once in his life, he was speechless.
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 him 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 cautioned.
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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