Cutting for generations

The spiraling red, white and blue will continue to twirl on the barber’s pole outside Barbers on Main, and the scissors inside will keep on clipping. But nowadays, those scissors will more often than not be wielded by a new set of hands.

After 39 years of cutting hair on Main Street in Cambridge, former owner Harold Yerigan is trying a new kind of cutting: cutting back. In late January he sold the building and business and reduced his time in the shop to two days a week.

Harold is a lifelong Cambridge resident, graduating from the high school in 1960. As a young man he worked at his father’s auto body shop, but he couldn’t foresee a career there. He went on to work at Isanti Repacking, and in 1967 headed off to a trade school for barbers in St. Paul. (Harold’s brother eventually took over the auto shop, and still operates Bud’s Auto Body on 325th Ave.)

Harold Yerigan, former owner of Barbers on Main, shoots the breeze with Jack Leipzig while giving him a trim. - Photo by Luke Reiter

At school, Harold was taken aback when his instructor assigned him to cut hair on his second day of class, but by the end of the six-month program he had regained his confidence––at least temporarily.

“It’s like any other school I think,” Harold said. “When you get out of school you think you know pretty  much what’s going on, and then when you get out there you don’t know nothin’.”

Harold went to work for an older barber in Forest Lake, a role he left five years later when a job opened up back in Cambridge at John Larson’s shop. Harold  eventually bought Larson out in 1981, and has been, as he jokingly tells it, “stuck here ever since.”

In 39 years of looking out his shop window onto Main Street Harold has seen Cambridge expand and evolve.

“It’s really changed because, you know, you used to be able to walk down the street and you know just about everybody that you walked by. But not anymore,” he said. “It’s not a teeny little town anymore”

In particular Harold misses the local grocery stores, most of which have been out-stocked and undercut into extinction by big-box retailers. He is also aware that like the small-town grocer his own profession is dying out. Barber shops, once a staple of every community, have been swept away in recent years, replaced by salon chains and more diverse stylists. Harold sees the decline as being inversely tied to the rise in longer, more complex hairstyles for men, but he also faults the intransigence of many barbers who have refused to adapt. For his part, Harold took continuing education classes to keep up with new styles and handling long hair.

Pictured is Harold Yerigan with new owner Tiffany Thorson.

Harold has also had to face his own problems in keeping his shop going. Pain from neuropathy has made it increasingly difficult to stand on his feet for long hours, although it took some urging from his nieces, Cindy Erikson and Lisa Yerigan, to convince him to lighten his schedule.

“I think cutting back for him was really hard,” Lisa said. “He knew he had to do it for his physical health, but I think for his emotional health he wanted to stay.”

Lisa has worked with Harold for 10 years, and Cindy worked in the shop for 20 years before recently moving to Arizona with her fiancé. Lisa said despite his reluctance to draw attention to himself, her uncle is a social person who cares for people and has left an indelible impression on the community. She recalled how, when Barbers on Main first offered business hours on Mondays, Harold took charge of opening the store every Monday at 8 a.m. to protect his “girls,” as he affectionately refers to Cindy and Lisa, from rising too early.

“Even still now there’s people who poke their head in and just ask where he is because they just want to visit,” Lisa said.

According to Harold, while the growth of Cambridge has made it harder to recognize every face on Main Street, he still has a good handle on the ones who come into his shop.

“Most of the people who walk in the door, you know who it is,” he said. “Or at least you have some connection with family––you got some connection to them that you know.”

Thanks to his willingness to listen Harold has built a strong network of connections that for four decades have woven through the community and wound their way back to his shop.

“And now I’ve sold to a young lady,” he said, and paused for a moment. “I don’t even think she’s 25 years old.”


Under new ownership

The young lady to whom Harold sold is Tiffany Thorson, a 2004 graduate of Cambridge-Isanti High School. Tiffany moved to the area from Oak Grove when she was in fifth grade. After high school she attended Regency Beauty Institute in Blaine, and afterwards returned to Cambridge to work at Fantastic Sams and later Spalon Elite, but her goal had always been to operate her own salon. After hearing rumors that Harold was scaling back, Tiffany thought perhaps this was her opportunity.

“I just decided that this was my time to actually go through with my dream,” Tiffany said.

She approached Harold with her offer in mid-January, and the two signed papers Jan. 28. Although Harold’s decision to sell may seem abrupt after all these years, his niece, Lisa, said she wasn’t surprised.

“He had kind of thrown around the idea for a while,” Lisa said. “He always says ‘Everything’s always for sale.”

If selling the store after 30 years is a monumental occasion for Harold, it is no less so for the buyer. Though she is young, Tiffany can look back on a formidable list of challenges she’s already overcome, beginning with having a baby her senior year of high school. Since then Tiffany has balanced school, a full-time job school and life as a young, single mother.

In 2009 Tiffany marred Luke Thorson, of St. Francis. This year, as she reaches her dream of owning a salon, Tiffany’s son, Treyten, will turn seven years old.

Perhaps because of her personal belief in the value of perseverance, Tiffany is adamant the front portion of the building maintain its traditional decor.

“I want to keep the barber shop feel when you walk into the barber shop. I think it’s important for the city of Cambridge to still have it,” Tiffany said. “It’s been here for so long.”

Tiffany is in the process of renovating the back portion of the store to give the area a more modern salon feel, and she plans to offer waxing, coloring and other services.

Harold, meanwhile, is adapting to his newfound free-time well. Last summer he and his wife, Candy, travelled to South Africa and took time for some big-game hunting, and this month he will take a trip to Arizona.

But there is still much for Harold to contribute as long as he keeps his Tuesday and Saturday hours, not the least of which is the list of clients he attracts, some of whom have been coming to him since he started his career in Forest Lake.

Harold, however, is quick to brush off any significance in his dedicated following, attributing it merely to his length of service.

“Look at me: I’m 67 years old,” Harold said. “My clients are older clients. I’ve cut their kids; kids, grandparents, you know.”

He chuckled.

“Cuttin’ for generations,” he said.