Battle Creek’s Hair Shed Closes
When Ken Bennett started cutting hair in 1967, there were about eight barber shops in downtown Battle Creek. After cutting some hair in the Navy, he went to barber school in Detroit, much to the chagrin of his family in Litchfield. They thought he'd stay on the farm,. "I was just a farm boy and I had no idea that you could make a living cutting hair," said Bennett on the 95.3 WBCK Morning Show with Tim Collins.
Bennett gave his last haircut on Friday at 70 East Michigan Avenue. He says it was a kid that had his first haircut there many years ago. Bennett is turning 75 and says it's time to take a break.
He started out working for Mr. Lynn's on Capital Avenue across from McCamly Plaza and soon opened his own shop on Monroe Street. which was a one-way curved street on the back side of Ermish Travel. "There was a pharmacy in front and a card room on the back side of that building. I was there five years," said Bennett. At that time, Monroe went through to Michigan Avenue, and was where young people used to "cruise the gut." The shop had the vintage furnishings that Hair Shed customers know very well. He says the old back bars were from August 29th, 1904, and were made for barbering in Chicago. They featured ornate woodcarving and hand-beveled mirrors. Bennett says he bought it all from owner Jim Morton. Bennett remembers a unique thing about that old shop. He says Morton cut a hole in the floor, and would fish from one of the barber chairs. A creek ran under the structure and flowed to the Battle Creek river. "He would sit right there and fish from his chair and pull in his supper whenever he wanted to."
Bennett says in the late 60's there were 125 area barbers that were 99% union. He thinks were down to about 25 licensed barbers in the area now, and it's believed that Stan Elwell, owner of Elwell Salon is the last one in downtown Battle Creek.
In the early 70's, Bennett bought the building at 70 East Michigan, a three-story structure two doors down from the Baptist Church. In between was a dilapidated old retreat center for ex-servicemen. The church owned both buildings. He says that basically, he shook hands with Reverend Ryan, took the deed and that was that. Bennett chuckled a little bit when asked if the recent sale of the building was a bit more complicated. "I can't say anything bad--it isn't any one place--but it's taken two years to sign the final papers for the couple that are buying it. It's just hard to believe all the variables and all the things you have to comply with these days as opposed to when I bought it."
Bennett says the new owners are planning retail for the ground floor, residential for the middle floor and he says they plan to live on the top floor.
Bennett will still continue to cut hair one day a week at the Calhoun County jail, something he's done for 23 years. He also cut hair for 41 years at Starr Commonwealth.
Bennett says Joni Marshall, who has been with him for 31 years, running the wig department will also retire. The wig department has been transferred to Ron at Ferrari's on Main Street. He'll take over the cancer wig bank.
Bennett has rolled with the trends over the years, adapting to stay in business. When he started, "flat tops" were a thing. "Yeah, true. Ivy leagues and flat-tops, is when I started. It's made full circle, it grew hair out, it went to pony tails and long, and then it's dropped back to shaven and bald and now it's starting to fill back in again. It makes the cycle like our clothes and everything else."