Like the hundreds of thousands of people, mostly men, who have walked through the doors of O’Brien’s Tonsorial Parlor since it opened in Denver in 1953, Nick Muller was looking for a haircut and a conversation.
He didn’t need the traditional red-white-and-blue barber pole outside to draw him to the shop at 4324 8th Ave. Muller has been coming to O’Brien’s to get his hair cut by owner Dick Alderson since 1967.
On a recent day, he took a seat in one of the shop’s four barber chairs, the brown leather seats showing wear from so many backsides. As he and Alderson chat, the barber thumbed through a stack of papers and picked out his lease. It won’t be renewed, he said.
The building’s landlord plans to renovate the building and put in two new businesses, Alderson told Muller. He’s worked at the shop since 1953 and took over when original owner Dick O’Brien died in a motorcycle crash in 1992.
“We’re going out of business. We’ve got 13 months left,” Alderson said.
“I don’t like to hear that … after all these years. Those are going to be precious months,” Muller told Alderson. “You’ve been so constant and reliable.”
Alderson said he isn’t surprised the shop will close next October. He’s seen similar change occurring throughout the neighborhood in recent years. He’d been contemplating retirement, he said, but feels forced to set a date now. There’s a sadness in the finality, he said, mostly when he thinks about the customers he’s known for years.
“We’re in their family (photo) albums. We’ve gone to their weddings. We’ve become part of their families,” Alderson said. “When they get attached to a barber they stick with him for years and years and it is passed on down from generation to generation.”
Alderson has treasured memories of days spent at the shop where he’s cut hair since he was 19. Among the most cherished is a summer when President Dwight D. Eisenhower and first lady Mamie Eisenhower were in town.
The Eisenhowers spent so much time nearby in one of Mamie Eisenhower’s childhood homes that many called it the “summer White House.” Alderson would wave at Eisenhower each day as he rode in a car with Secret Service agents. The agents routinely got their shoes shined at the barbershop, he said.
Alderson’s crew of barbers each has memories they hold dear of the work, conversations and friendships forged over their 40-plus years cutting the hair of Broncos players, TV stars, teachers, politicians, mechanics, lawyers — and their families. Samuel Lucero has worked at O’Brien’s for “just” 24 years and fondly recalls the moment when former Colorado Rockies pitcher Pedro Astacio walked into the shop. It was snowing, and Astacio strolled in wearing shorts and flip-flops. The barbers looked up in unison.
“The heads turned to the guy and I said, ‘Are you Pedro Astacio?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I came to get a haircut.’”
That’s what Denver residents have done for 64 years. There’s a deep familiarity and comfort between the barbers and their customers, and the next year will be difficult. “We were just happy to do what we’ve been doing,” Lucero said.
“Tears will be rolling down my cheek when I close that door for the last time and get in my car and go home,” Alderson said.