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Barber snips his last lock

Ashland's Don Evans closes the pie-shaped shop

ASHLAND -- Fifteen years ago, barber Don Evans was just another person hoping to move back to the beautiful Rogue Valley. Despite getting two local newspapers delivered to his barber shop in Wyoming, though, there were no want ads looking for someone with a flair for hair.

So one day as Evans scanned the editorial page, he randomly picked out a name of someone who had written a letter to the editor -- and wrote to them.

Can you deliver this letter to the ... barber shop shaped like a pie? he asked.

In the letter, he asked the barber from that pie-shaped shop if he needed help, or was willing to sell his business.

Vinton (Phelps, the barber) wrote back and said, `Boy, I want to sell this place so bad, how fast can you get here?'

And with that, Evans became a legend.

Legendary for his support of the Ashland Grizzlies -- whose posters and newspaper clippings are taped to the walls of his shop. For his $5 haircuts he gives seniors. For tall tales.

And for the handmade, sometimes misspelled signs he posts in his windows. One boosts the tiny one-chair shop at 342 Lithia Way as Ashland's oldest barbershop.

But today, that will no longer be true. After 40 years of clippers, crew cuts and cock-and-bull stories, the barbershop will be replaced by a chocolate and espresso shop -- Renaissance Chocolate. And Evans, 69, will retire.

I always said I'll keep working as long as it's fun -- it's still fun, but I've got aches and pains and terrible terrible fatigue, Evans said as he snipped away at a customer's gray locks. I'm old and it's time to quit.

Evans prides himself on the unsterile nature of his shop. It's a place as messy as grandma's kitchen on Thanksgiving Day, with the same sense of warm companionship within.

The linoleum is peeling, a broken clock is turned toward the mirror. Evans doesn't wear a white barber smock -- instead works in a striped button-down shirt.

Dusty tomes, picked-apart newspapers, and National Geographics -- none newer than 1993 -- get moved from brown vinyl chair to vinyl chair each time a customer wanders in to wait.

This is what I love, said Nathan Zampella, 25, of Pittsford, N.Y.A small-town atmosphere.

...places where you can shoot the breeze.

Zampella walked into Evans' shop Tuesday as he checked out Ashland. He's considering Southern Oregon University's environmental education master's program and was drawn in by the old-time barbershop ambiance.

As Evans trimmed the young man's hair, he taught him how to pronounce O-R-E-G-U-N in a way he won't be ridiculed -- and extolled the virtues of his home.

But most of Evans' customers are regulars, the town's old-timers -- like Lloyd Hoadley, 74, who has lived in Ashland since 1940 and has gotten haircuts at Don's Barbershop for years.

I have to learn the latest gossip, Hoadley explained.

With the regulars, Evans tells stories of his wild days as a radio personality, a horse trader, a grocery store trouble shooter. He asks after their grandchildren, and their health.

Maury Madau, 84, trades freshly caught trout for his haircuts.

You be sure to put in your newspaper column -- this is one of Ashland's finest citizens, Madau said, shaking his finger at the reporter.

Another customer hands Evans a 50-cent-off Raisin Bran coupon for a tip. Evans puts it on his counter along with a bottle of WD-40 and cleaning agents for his combs. There is no hairspray, Evans proudly announces.

Most of my customers don't like to go to places where they sit with ladies and smell all those straighteners and perfumes, Evans said.

Evans' wife, Barbara, isn't quite sure how the work-a-holic will manage retirement.

Don's a person that's got to be doing something and he'll probably be driving me crazy, she laughed. I think I'll ship him down to see his mother six months out of the year.

Evans' last haircut at the Lithia Way shop will pass the torch, so to speak. He'll be cutting the hair of the new store tenant of the store: Bob Rahl.

Rahl, 44, is going to be sprucing the place up, and taking over the adjacent businesses for his chocolate factory and retail outlet that imports Belgian chocolate for speciality chocolate bars.

As Evans sends away one of the last customers Tuesday morning (he doesn't work the afternoons), he gives his typical good-bye: Maybe that will hold you till you get to a barber.

But there's sadness in his voice. The handshakes are longer than usual for men.

I'm not a joiner. I don't belong to anything, Evans said sweeping up the tufts of hair he's chopped with such precision. This barbershop is my whole life.*

Don Evans waits in the doorway of his barbershop in Ashland Tuesday. He closes the shop and retires today. - Photo by Jim Craven