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Longtime Salt Lake barber Clyde Ashcroft retires after 58 years

SOUTH SALT LAKE — John Gidney found out Friday morning that his barber, Clyde Ashcroft, was planning to put down his shears and retire at the end of the day — after 58 years and countless haircuts.

Since being referred there by a friend a year ago, Gidney had visited Clyde's Barber Shop every four weeks and made sure he got in one last trim Friday.

"You can't save them up," he said of his haircuts. "Clyde makes it come out just right."

Ashcroft began cutting hair in 1954 after completing a six-month program at Salt Lake Barber College. Back then, a cut cost $1.25 compared to the $9 — or $8 for seniors — that Ashcroft charged on the day of his retirement.

The year before his first trim, Ashcroft married his wife, Erma, who passed away in 2011. They met on a blind date, he said, but the specifics of that first encounter have faded with time.

"I don't remember what we did," he said. "I just remember thinking I finally found a nice girl."

Ashcroft's first barber shop was located in a bowling alley on 3900 S. State that burned down in 1976. The alley was located next to the original Kentucky Fried Chicken, and its owner, Pete Harmon, was a loyal client at Clyde's Barber Shop.

After the fire, Ashcroft and his partner Wayne Griffin moved to his current location in the building of The Children's Theater — formerly the Avalon Theater — at 3609 S. State.

"This was just a store room, all boarded up, so I talked them into putting a shop in here," he said.

Griffin eventually moved to California, partly because longer men's hairstyles were drying up business, Ashcroft said. In the old days, men would come in for a haircut every 10 to 14 days. But in the mid-1970s and 1980s, longer hair meant a month or more between cuts and a need for three times as many customers.

Clyde's Barber Shop was able to weather the trend, but Ashcroft said he watched a lot of barbers close their doors. He was lucky to have loyal customers, many of whom have been with him for more than 50 years, and at least one man who followed him from shop to shop right out of barber school.

"It's a tough business," he said. "It takes a long time to build a clientele."

One customer, Jerry Clayton, said he was initially referred to Ashcroft by a friend almost 10 years ago. On Friday when he arrived for a haircut, he had no idea Ashcroft was retiring. In fact, he had been planning on coming by next week but decided to slip in.

Now, he's not thrilled about looking for a new barber.

"I was comfortable when I came here because we come from the same era," he said.

To Ashcroft's children, the memories of their father have always included a spinning barber pole on the wall and hair trimmings on the floor.

"I have mixed emotions," daughter Clydine Carlson said. "This has been his life."

She and her siblings learned the value of hard work from her father, but also the value of service. Ashcroft, she said, would often volunteer to cut hair at mortuaries and care centers and was always ready to lend a helping hand to those who needed it.

"Everything I have, everything I am, I owe to my mom and dad," she said.

Chris Ashcroft said Clyde's Barber Shop was open Tuesday through Saturday and his father rarely, if ever, took time off. On Mondays, his father's day off, the barber and his children often spent the day cleaning the shop.

"As a kid, we never got to go on vacation because dad had to work every Saturday," he said. "He just worked all the time."

Because he was the son of a barber, he said, he wasn't allowed to grow out his hair into the longer styles his friends often sported. The Ashcroft family has several anecdotes revolving around Clyde Ashcroft's distaste for long hair — for both aesthetic and economic reasons. His grandson, for example, wanted to cut his hair into a mullet and Ashcroft would have nothing to do with it.

"My grandpa refused to cut it," Preston Carlson recalled. "He said I looked like a hippie."

Ashcroft doesn't have any big plans for his retirement. He enjoys fishing and plans on doing a lot of it when the weather warms. Beyond that, however, he said he has a lot of little projects to fill his time.

"It's a lot harder than I thought it was going to be," he said of retirement. "When you do something for 58 years and then stop, it's tough."

Clyde's Barber Shop may be shutting its doors, but the family tradition of cutting hair will live on in part in the form of granddaughter Jessica Soelberg, who works at Kellie and Company salon. The torch was unofficially passed seven years ago, when Ashcroft took some rare time off to recover from a surgery while Soelberg filled in at Clyde's.

"It was interesting to hear what the customers thought," Chris Ashcroft said. "She didn't cut hair like he cut hair, but they all told him she was prettier to look at."