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New London barber calls it a career some four decades after it all began for him

Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange Dalen Fisher, right, gets his flat-top trimmed by Bob Nelson of Friday in New London. After 43 years, including 37 in New London, Nelson retired Saturday.

NEW LONDON -- A steady stream of customers and good-natured bantering was flowing at Bob Nelson's barbershop Friday in New London.

It's always busy at the one-chair shop, but longtime customers wanted to make sure they got their $10 haircuts before Nelson closed his doors at 1 p.m. Saturday.

After 43 years in the business, including 37 in his hometown, Nelson has retired.

A new barber, Brad Olson, will take over the clippers when the shop opens Tuesday.

"I came in on a black horse, and I want to ride out on a white horse," joked Nelson, who'll be 65 in April. After attending barbershop school, he spent five years in Edina before coming back to his hometown in 1972.

Using the same chair all these years, Nelson has cut hair for generations of the same families.

Derek Noor, 24, said he's been coming to Nelson, "Since I was big enough to crawl in that chair myself." His grandfather, who still gets his hair cut by Nelson, brought Noor in for his first haircut.

Matt Kulset, 26, has been getting his hair cut at Nelson's shop for 15 years.

"It's what I've always done, I guess."

Even for the three years Kulset lived in St. Cloud he'd drive to Nelson's for a haircut.

"Customers are pretty loyal in these small towns," he said. "You get to know everybody."

Nelson is also loyal to his customers.

In all his years as a barber, he's missed just one day of work.

His record for haircuts is 49 in one day, along with a couple beard trims. He's hit the 49 mark several times but was never able to hit 50.

"Even in a snowstorm you'll get a few," Nelson said.

"Bob knows how to cut a flat-top and he has a one-syllable name. That's a good quality in a barber," said Dalen Fisher, who's been coming to Nelson for more than 10 years for a haircut.

He thinks he'll give the new barber, who also has a one-syllable first name, a chance. "If Bob think he's worthy, that's good enough for me," Fisher said.

Nelson's simple shop has a man's flavor to it and doesn't come with the flourishes of a hair stylist.

"I come for a cut, not a styling," Noor said.

Al Christopherson, an old high school buddy of Nelson, took time from farming Friday to get a trim. He's come to Nelson for the last 37 years.

"Well, Al, I think I did about all I can do," Nelson said as he finished Christopherson's cut for the last time. "Should I put my name on that one?"

Christopherson wondered who he'd talk out his frustrations with now that Nelson wouldn't be there to listen to him as he sat in the barber chair. "Call me if you change your mind," Christopherson said, trying to convince Nelson not to hang up his clippers.

Standing by to "take abuse without giving it back" is what his customers expect Nelson to do when they get a haircut, he said, to the guffaws of the two men waiting in line for their cuts.

"Baloney," said Christopherson, challenging Nelson's assertion that he doesn't dish out his fair share.

Nelson said he wouldn't trade his smalltown business for a flashy one in the city.

"Oh yeah, we've had a lot of fun in here. We've had a lot of fun and a lot of laughs," Nelson said. "I'm going to miss the people."

Nelson added he expects he'll make a few stops at the shop after he's retired. "I might have to come down here just to get abused."

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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