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Longtime Medford barber is closing shop

Red Fakes sat in the barber chair, staring intently into the mirror as Chuck Clemans went about his business.

Combing, snipping, cutting and buzzing, Clemans methodically worked from one ear to the other, as small clumps of Fake's hair floated down onto the worn linoleum floor.

Clemans flipped off his hair buzzer and offered a small grunt of satisfaction, handing Fakes a mirror to admire his handiwork.

"Well, I don't like the haircut," said Fakes, 29. "But it'll do."

"That's what you said last time," said Clemans with a friendly smirk. "But you still came back."

After Fakes left the shop, Clemans eased back into his barber chair with a slight grin on his face.

"This guy, he's been in here about four times, and always says, 'Well, it's not great but it'll work,'" said Clemans. "He's just giving me a hard time."

Clemans, 82, owns the Central Barber Shop in downtown Medford, by his own account the oldest barbershop in Medford. Offering $8 haircuts, Clemans is popular among old-timers as well as the younger demographic for his prices and experience. Most of his regulars he knows by name, and conversation in the shop often revolves around fishing, hunting and more fishing.

After 57 years in the business, Clemans is finally calling it quits, closing the shop for good on Jan. 6.

"They tell me that I've been barbering the longest in Medford, although I don't have any way to prove that," he said.

"I had tried to quit once," he said. "My youngest son went to beauty school. He came and ran the shop for a while. I tried to quit, but my wife said retirement was twice the husband and half the money."

Originally from Kansas, Clemans has lived in Medford for 65 years. During that time, he has seen a lot of change, both in the city and in the trade.

"When I started work here, there were three barbers here," he said. "That was back when downtown was the shopping center of Southern Oregon ... Then the Medford Shopping Center came along, and that was the beginning of the end of the retail business downtown.

"I'm the only old-time barbershop left," he said. "They're an endangered species."

Clemans said that old-fashioned barbershops like his are gradually being pushed out by large chains, such as Supercuts and MasterCuts, and that the trade is slowly devolving as barbers no longer have access to the formal training they used to get at barber schools.

"What happened is, the barbers are trained by beauticians, and barbers and beauticians cut hair differently," he said. "The last three barbers that worked here with me, I had to teach them how to taper hair."

Gordon Conrad is one of Clemans' regulars and also his brother-in-law. He's been getting his hair cut at Central Barber Shop for years, although he's a bit fuzzy on the exact date.

"Forty years, 50 years, anytime in that neighborhood," said Conrad, 91. "I married my wife 65 years ago, so anytime after that ... I like the way he cuts my hair."

Conrad's sentiments were echoed by Clemans' other customers as well.

"He gets the job done," said Fakes. "I come here because he's cheap, and he does all right. He does really good for his age."

Clemans wanted to thank his regulars for their years of loyal support, although many of them don't know he's closing down.

Clemans plans on volunteering once he retires, possibly with Meals on Wheels, a program that delivers food to senior citizens.

"I know a lot of people have trouble finding stuff to do," said Clemans. "[My wife] is a very supportive person, but I'm sure she'll have second thoughts about me being around all the time ... after this week, I'll start looking around."

Reach reporting intern Nils Holst at 541-776-4368 or email holstn@sou.edu.

Chuck Clemans, 82, owner of Central Barber Shop, cuts 91-year-old Gordon Conrad’s hair Tuesday in Medford. After 57 years in business, Clemans is closing his shop doors Jan. 6. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore - Julia Moore