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Longtime Ashland barber hangs up the clippers after 54-year career

The secret to being a great barber, says 77-year-old Vern Cordier, of Modern Barber Shop in Ashland, is to take your time, do it right in every detail, let the customer relax and have interesting conversations that you carry on from month to month.

That’s what Cordier has been doing in Ashland since 1964 — and today is his last day. He will miss it, but health issues insist, he says.

“It’s inside, it’s easy, and I’m lazy,” he always says, to much laughter among men in the shop. “It’s clean work, and I don’t get my hands greasy.”

The haircuts are only $18, but one customer, Troy Reynolds, gave Cordier a thankful tip — a $50 bill — for 45 years of trimming his crew cut (a style few barbers can do these days, he says).

“When you get someone doing it the way you like, for so long,” says Reynolds, “well, you just want to keep coming back. I wish I could put some tacks in Vern’s tires so he couldn’t leave.”

Growing up in a military family, Cordier lived in a variety of places, including Monterey, California, before he set out to find a better place to live.

“I drove down Old 99 into the valley, and when I hit that beautiful tree-lined boulevard (in Ashland), I said this is where I want to be.”

He started cutting hair at Modern when it was on the Plaza, where Greenleaf Restaurant is now. In 1980, it moved to its present spot, at 51 Lithia Way, where it has prospered for the last 38 years.

After cutting the hair of longtime customer Jim Quinby, Cordier reminisces that, in the beginning, haircuts were “a buck and a quarter, and one time a customer joked to me, you just watch, someday they’ll cost five bucks!”

Quinby, a longtime Ashland pianist, says, “He’s the only barber I’ve known since I stopped cutting my own hair in the ‘70s. The attraction of Vern is that he takes a long time to cut my hair. He is old-school careful and likes to talk. We share a love of the Eastern Oregon desert. I learned not to be in a hurry here, if he wants to tell a story.”

Cordier adds, “That’s right, we’ll talk about anything, just not politics.”

Fellow barber Bruce Schnabel says he’s learned a lot of techniques from Cordier, as well as from George Cripe, who also just retired from the shop — after 60 years.

“I noticed they were taking three times longer than me on a customer,” Schnabel says. “George and Vern recognized it’s a profession as well as an art. You don’t just get in and get out. He’s got a lot of technique that I picked up. He makes a connection with the client. That’s why people come in and don’t mind waiting for him.

“Me, I slowed way down and improved my game. We’ll miss Vern. He’s easy to get along with and is never in a bad mood.”

With a sigh, Quinby notes, “It’s just terrible that he’s leaving. When your favorite barber retires, it’s a crisis.”

Several poems of customer Joseph Friedman decorate the walls. One, after praising the barber’s craft, ends:

But it’s really something else that

Brings folks in off the street.

It’s the warmth and kind reception

As you settle in the seat.

The talkin’ and the laughin’

That always fills the air

So youngsters listen to me now

If it’s greatness you aspire

Follow in the footsteps of

These guys who won’t retire.

— Reach Ashland freelance writer John Darling at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

(April 25: Corrected spelling of Joseph Friedman’s name.)