Iowa City barber keeps clipping after five decades
Jim Friday a staple on North Gilbert Street since 1968
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IOWA CITY — A University of Iowa professor peeks in the door of Friday’s Barber Shop, sees no one waiting and dashes out to feed the meter.
It’s a rare Friday morning when barber Jim Friday doesn’t have a backlog of somewhat shaggy sirs waiting in the small brick barbershop in Iowa City’s Northside Neighborhood.
“I don’t make appointments at all,” said Friday, 70.
But when you’ve been cutting hair for more than 51 years and you’re one of few true barbers left in town, people don’t mind the wait.
“I’ve seen all range of people in here from grade school boys to people with more gray hair than me,” said Jay Christensen-Szalanski, a UI professor of management and organization who sits back in the barber chair as Friday drapes the professor’s button-down and bow tie in a black cape.
Friday is being honored as part of the History of the Barber Profession exhibit on display through Aug. 31 at the Johnson County Historical Society Museum in Coralville.
Friday, a Mount Ayr native, came to Iowa City in 1965 after graduating from the Des Moines Barber School.
“You had to serve an 18-month apprenticeship with a master barber,” Friday said.
He apprenticed at the barbershop adjacent to the downtown Strand movie theater, where films like “The Chase” starring Marlon Brando and Jane Fonda played in the late 1960s.
Friday started work at Oscar’s, at 217 N. Gilbert St., in 1968. By early 1969, he had purchased the barbershop and gave it his last name.
It was a distinct time for men’s hair, Friday said.
“It was quite a bit longer,” he said. “It was before hippies, so not shoulder length, but Beatles style.”
But some men have always favored short cuts, including buzzes, flat-tops and what Friday calls the “pilot look,” with a fade going up to longer hair on the top that can be combed back into a pompadour.
He uses electric clippers, scissors, a straight edge for the back of the neck and an air hose to blow clippings from customers’ clothing. While Friday regularly trims beards, he hasn’t shaved customers for decades.
“The Department of Health requested we stop doing facial shaves back in the ’80s when AIDS was hitting,” Friday said, adding that because of uncertainty of how the virus was transmitted, people at that time worried it could be passed through shaving tools.
Shaving is allowed for barbers today, but Friday doesn’t do it because the precision work bothers his shoulders.
There’s no hip music, gourmet coffee or receptionist taking your coat at Friday’s. It’s a distinctly male sanctuary with car posters, dozens of men’s magazines — including Playboy — TV and a computer so people can check email while waiting for a cut.
“People don’t do that as much now with smartphones,” Friday said.
In recent years, Friday has seen barbering colleagues retire or die, leaving mostly cosmetologists, who usually have less training with men’s cuts, he said. A telltale sign of a cosmetologist cut is a straight line on nape of the neck rather than a taper.
“A full taper will be less noticeable as it grows out.” he said.
But since many of the hot new men’s hairstyles involve ultra-sculpted fades, undercuts and lines etched into hair, clipper techniques learned by barbers may be increasingly in demand.
Friday’s wife, Lois, recently convinced him to go down to four days a week, closing the shop Saturday through Monday. But he’s not ready to hang up his clippers.
“I still enjoy barbering,” he said. “You’re constantly talking to people. At home I’m off myself in the garage. By Tuesday, I’m ready to go back to work.”
IF YOU GO
What: Friday’s Barber Shop
Address: 217 N. Gilbert St., Iowa City
Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday
Services: Adult haircut, $18; child’s haircut, $17.25; beard trim, $9; 1/2 beard trim, $4.25; mustache trim, $2. No shaves.
Phone: (319) 338-5538. No appointments; walk-ins only.