Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Advertising looks and chops a must


Hot days are hair cut days. Darlene Robinette has spent plenty of afternoons in her Kenton barbershop, 7 Bucks a Whack, just goofing off, petting her 8-year-old peekapoo Elvis. But it seems like the whole neighborhood comes in on the days the thermometer shoots past 80.

Take Monday for instance: 90 degrees by 6 p.m. That’s normally quitting time, Robinette said. Half a dozen guys were still waiting to have their beards trimmed. She worked an hour later. Even though it was her 72nd birthday. Even though she had worn her bathing suit and a pair of waterproof shorts all day, hoping she could sneak out to Sauvie Island for a dip.

A regular came by late afternoon. Robinette had two clipper cuts waiting to be done, so he waited down the road at a Lottery machine. He reappeared half an hour later, $1,100 in hand.

“He said he’d buy me a drink at Kenton Station,” Robinette said.

A customer was still waiting at 7 p.m., but Robinette asked her to please come back the next day. That drink was waiting, “and I’d about whacked til I dropped,” Robinette said.

The narrow Kenton shop is Robinette’s third. She moved to the space 11 years ago from a space on Southeast Morrison. She misses the pompadours her Southeast customers favored, but otherwise, Kenton is perfect. She likes the library and the park, and when quitting time does, in fact, come, she can make it home to her Jantzen Beach house boat or to the water on Sauvie Island in no time flat.

She learned to cut hair from her mother in Lake Oswego in the mid 1940s. Irene Eoff had been studying to become a barber before she became pregnant with Darlene. Four other children followed, and though Eoff never finished her studies, she lined all the neighborhood kids up on weekends for a free buzz.

By the time Robinette daughter was 7, Eoff had her daughter doing perms. Eoff never had the chance to do hair for a living. She worked as a school bus driver and as a housekeeper for St. Vincent Hospital and Medical Center. When she passed away in 1994, Robinette used the inheritance to buy her first shop, a walk-in street level spot in the Clifford Apartments. She moved to the Morrisson location after the apartment building burned down in 1998.

Robinette keeps a picture of her mom hanging on a wood-block clock above the barber chair in her Kenton location.

“That way she can see what I did with the money and watch me work every day,” Robinette said.

Yelp reviewers give Robinette decent marks, in part for her ability to multi-task.

“Darlene was actually boiling potatoes while cutting my hair (in between smoke breaks),” one five-star reviewer wrote.

She doesn’t have a favorite haircut. She does it all and offers a free eyebrow trim for the $7. She prefers not to use scissors. Shears have hurt her hands ever since she broke both wrists a month before the apartment fire.

She still does perms, though she doesn’t advertise them, out of respect for the nearby beauty salons. She doesn’t keep a look book. She has something better: a magazine that shows former Mayor Sam Adams on the cover.

“I gave him this haircut,” she said. “He told me, ‘Whenever I need something special done with my hair, you’re the one.’”

Sure enough, the former mayor gave the spot a 5-star review on Yelp.

“He has a lot of cowlicks,” Robinett said. “But they can be worked with.”

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