We’re wandering around downtown Beloit, Wisconsin, checking out the shops on a chilly February morning before our first Saturday session of the Beloit International Film Festival. We stop to snap a few photos of Austin’s Barber Shop, a shop with an old-fashioned red, white and blue striped pole out front.
The barber pops his head out the door. “Wait until I take the sign out of the window. The suction cup makes it look like a bullet hole.” We take a few more pictures and the barber, Rod Gottfredsen, invites us to step in and look around.
I think it’s odd that we’re going in to look at a barber shop, but as soon as I cross the threshold, I understand. The place is filled with—stuff. Collections of antique shaving mugs, Coke bottles, an old Coke machine, photographs and books fill any space that isn’t taken up with the equipment Gottfredsen uses in his livelihood.
“Do you remember Spike O’Dell?” he asks. Of course we do. Spike O’Dell was a popular Chicago radio talk show host. “Do you remember Rod the Barber who he used to talk with? That was me. I had the Spike O’Dell coffee cup museum in here.” Ah, that Rod the Barber. Yes, we remember—a real character with a great sense of humor.
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A young man comes in for a haircut and sits in the vintage barber chair next to the airplane that seats the youngest of Austin’s Barber Shop clients. Gottfredsen chats while he gets to work.
He points out his Coke bottle collection, bottles from all over the world. “I’ve never been to any of those places,” he admits. International students from Beloit College brought him the bottles from their home countries—that is, until carrying liquids on planes was banned.
Austin’s Barber Shop has been in Beloit since 1917, and Gottfredsen bought it in 1983. He acknowledges the barber business hasn’t made him rich, but he has managed to provide well for his family. Most important, he loves what he does. It’s obvious.
It’s time for us to move on, and as we’re leaving, Gottfredsen encourages us to come back to Beloit in the summer. Rod the Barber is one of those people we’ll likely never forget. He has made our February weekend in Beloit a little warmer.
Austiin’s Barbershop is located at 316 State Street in downtown Beloit, Wisconsin.
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