More than 100 years of trims, shaves

The Como Avenue building has been home to a barber shop for 105 years.

Shaded by honey locusts on a street ripe with change, rests a building that has been home to 105 years of barbershops. On brown siding are the red scripted letters: Pete’s Como Barber Shop.

Below the lettering, a picture window and glass door make the entire contents of the shop visible.

Two barber chairs rest on a gray-speckled linoleum floor and faux oak paneling covers the walls. On either side of two large mirrors, a mounted moose and elk stare blankly. On the opposite wall, a buck stares back.

A dusty shelf holds two packaged shaving brushes that stand next to a mounted duck and quail, and across the room is a dark television surrounded by bowling trophies.

And then, there is Peter Kish, 59, known simply to customers as “Pete.”

He stands hunched behind the first chair, a toothpick in his mouth. Thick glasses rest on his nose. Though he is a barber, Kish has little of his own hair to cut. With his right hand, he navigates the electric razor around a customer’s ears. The tiny hairs fall like snow, caught briefly by the lighting from the long florescent bulbs on the ceiling.

The graying whiskers of Kish’s beard brush up against the white phone that is tucked under his chin.

“Oh, glad you told me,” he says into the phone.

Kish hangs up and turns to the waiting customers. Butch Nash is dead, he says. Nash was a legendary Gophers football player-turned-coach and a customer of Kish’s for more than three decades.

“I gave him a haircut about a week ago,” he says.

Kish shakes the hair off the apron. “Say ‘hi’ to Jane and Anne,” he says as a customer steps out the door.

Kish pulls a lever and the 1950s cash register pops open.

“I’ve had the thing fixed twice, and it still doesn’t work,” he says.

The radio, set at 102.9 LiteFM, plays in the background as the next customer sits down for a trim.

Edward Lawler, 68, has known Kish since the shop opened. He said Kish guided him to treatment when he was struggling with alcoholism, which became especially difficult when he was laid off after 25 years as a grain inspector for the state of Minnesota.

“(Kish will) go out of his way to do anything for you,” he said.

Lawler, who is now retired and lives in the Como neighborhood, has been sober for 11 years.

“You can’t help but like the guy,” he said of Kish. “He is a great person; a great guy.”

“An Institution”

Kish has owned the building at 1508 Como Ave. S.E. for 33 years. Before that, another barber owned the building for 25 years, Kish said. Since the building was constructed in 1900, the location has held only barbershops.

Kish, a Minneapolis native, attended Minneapolis’ Catholic DeLaSalle High School and graduated in 1964.

“I had this nun that used to hit me for looking out the window (during class),” he said. “She said that I wouldn’t be able to find a job where I could look out the window.”

Years later, through a relative, Kish told the nun that he found a job in which he can look out the window. Not only did she remember him, but to Kish’s surprise, she was happy for him.

Further down the counter a book, “Nam: A Photographic History,” sits under stacks of papers. In January 1965, Kish enlisted in the Air Force, serving as a courier. For four years, he was stationed in Indianapolis, Duluth, Minn.; Vietnam and Newfoundland.

After the service, Kish worked briefly as a carrier for the U.S. Postal Service in Northeast Minneapolis.

In 1972, after receiving encouragement from relatives, Kish opened his shop. During his first 29 years at the shop, he walked three blocks to work from his home on 12th Avenue.

In 1996, the year brought sadness for Kish when his wife died after fighting cancer for 19 years. Kish remarried four years later and now lives in Blaine, Minn.

Vern Chelte, 77, has known Kish since he opened the shop.

Kish and his uncle were close, Chelte said. When his uncle died, Kish was the trustee to the estate of his aunt, who had Alzheimer’s disease.

“He really took care of her,” Chelte said. “I give him a lot of credit for that. I don’t know if I could have done that.

“He’s the kind of guy that will go out of his way to do anything for you.”

Laughs at Pete’s

A man named Richard Nixon used to come in years ago, Kish said. After a long absence, Nixon came back and told everyone in the shop he was diabetic and recently had his foot cut off.

He then proceeded to show his stump and prostheses to everyone waiting, Kish said.

The shop was full that Saturday, and when Nixon left, “everyone gave their two cents,” Kish said. Some customers were interested, others disgusted. But one man said from behind his newspaper that he was just glad Nixon didn’t have to have a hemorrhoidectomy, Kish said.

“I thought the guys were going to bust a gut,” Kish said.

Thirty-three years have brought multiple generations of families into Kish’s shop.

“You’re an institution around here, Pete,” one customer says.

“Yeah, as long as I don’t end up in one,” Kish responds. “I have a half dozen families I’ve done four generations on,” he says. “Maybe even five if they get moving.”

Kish shakes out the apron as another customer gets into the chair.

This is the best profession for a guy to have, Kish says.

“(They say) a man that loves his job never works. I guess that holds true for me,” he says.

Freelance editor Anna Weggel welcomes feedback at [email protected]