Fairfax barber has been cutting hair for 50 years
Now, more than five decades later, if you take a look inside his Fairfax barbershop you’ll most likely find him still clipping hair while maintaining a constant presence on west Main Street and staying tuned in to the pulse of his community.
It all began with a long line of guys waiting for haircuts on nights before inspection at the barracks. Serving in the Navy as a medic corpsman, it is where his nickname “Mark” started.
“I had one comb and a clipper that another guy sold to me, and when I was off duty, I spent my time cutting hair for $1 a head,” recalled Marquardt. “I set up a chair in the latrine, because that was the only place where we had an electrical outlet, and went to work.”
He borrowed a hospital bedsheet for a hair cloth to be placed around the neck and shoulders and would cut hair until midnight. “The clippers got so hot I’d have to stop and shut it off to let it cool down,” he said. “Even though I didn’t know much about cutting hair, there was only one length to cut, short and shorter, so I did okay,” he noted.
A native of Cosmos, Marquardt was working for the highway department when he got out of the Navy in 1957 before deciding he wanted to attend the Moler Barber College in Minneapolis. “My dad farmed near Cosmos, and he told me that becoming a barber was the dumbest thing I could do to give up a good paying civil service job,” he recalled.
Once at barber school, students would practice the craft of cutting hair on anyone who wanted to come in and take a chance on the outcome. Marquardt vividly remembers the time when some pretty tough customers walked through the college doors for a haircut.
“It was Kid Cann and his crew who owned a liquor store a few doors down from us in the same building, and Cann decided to sit in my chair that day,” said Marquardt.
Cann was an organized crime figure based in Minneapolis for over 40 years and was considered the most notorious mobster in Minnesota history before going to federal prison and then later moving to Florida.
“Those guys were good to us; they were big tippers, and they knew what it was like to start from nothing,” said Marquardt.
“But we always wondered about those heavy-tailored overcoats that they took off before sitting down…we never looked in the pockets but could only guess what was in them,” he added.
When Marquardt came out of barber school he borrowed $25 in order to travel to his first job in Cambridge. His wife, Doris, opened a beauty shop too, and they stayed for three years before relocating to Fairfax in 1964 to buy the one and only barbershop he’s ever owned at age 27.
“A barbershop owned by Orville Olson came up for sale, and we bought it,” said Marquardt. “The shop was in the Olson family for over 60 years as Orville’s dad (Henry) began the business.”
Mark said Orville wanted to retire, but he stayed on working in the busy shop for Marquardt for another 15 years before Mark’s son Brian graduated from the same barber school that his dad attended. Brian joined the business in the late ‘70s to complete the second-generation tradition of Olsons and Marquardts that have barbered in the same building and location since the early 1900s.
Marquardt has no idea how many haircuts he’s clipped over the years, but he’s seen a number of styles come and go during his career. From buzz cuts to flat tops, long sideburns, side part, no part, long on top, short in front, trim the sides or getting the “ears lowered” was never any problem, but you had to adapt he said.
“In the ‘60s and ‘70s long hair was the rage for most young people because the Beatles and the disco era made that the trend,” said Marquardt. “When I started the styles were Ivy League and flat tops. If you could cut those you were in, but then after the Beatles visited America the same year I came to Fairfax, the hair went over the ears, and now we’re back to short again.”
While he faithfully snipped his way through all of the style changes Marquardt says there were a lot of barbers back in the ‘60s who quit the business because they couldn’t adjust to having someone walk out of their shop with long hair.
In the early days of his career it wasn’t unusual to put in 12 to 15 hour days cutting hair. “Being a farming community I can recall having a dozen guys walking into my shop on a rainy day…the waiting chairs were full before we decided it was probably a good idea to start taking appointments,” he said. “And the big families with six or seven kids are now a thing of the past.”
It was once considered that every well-groomed man got a barbershop shave, and Mark used to do that also but that mostly went away when the electric razor became popular ,and so he ended up selling a lot of shavers instead. Still he has his straight edges just in case. Thirty years ago he gave a close shave to the writer of this story on his wedding day. And when the old-timer barber named Ansel who was located across the street asked Mark to sharpen his blades, he was courteous and provided that service too.
Always ready with a good quip or joke himself, Mark says there have been a lot of characters who’ve sat in his barber chair over the years, and he’s enjoyed them all. “I think I’ve heard more Ole and Lena stories that I can remember.” During his 50 years in Fairfax he’s gone through only two barber chairs. “I bought the second one used in the 1960s, and it’s been reupholstered, rechromed and still very comfortable,” he added.
A look around the shop shows its history. There’s the homey feel of dark wood paneling and original pieces, such as the stately wooden-back cabinets from the 1920s, big mirrors, a large wall pendulum clock, retail shelving, historical photos and an ornate cash register. Newspapers and magazines cover the table for customers to read. All that’s missing is the antique barber pole that once hung outside his front door but had to removed after it was broken by a vandal.
Marquardt is rightfully proud of the service reputation his shop has established, and as a community leader, he’s served in numerous civic capacities, organizations and activities. He was instrumental in contacting Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey to acquire a U.S. flag that flew over the nation’s capitol to be sent to Fairfax and flown over the new Fairfax Community Nursing Home at its grand opening in 1965.
“Hubert was fond of Fairfax. He once was in one of our community celebration parades and he loved hats…he’d buy some of them from one of our clothiers in Fairfax at that time,” he recalled.
His clients have become close friends and extended family. A good conversationalist, he’s talked to them with just about everything from farming to politics, business to current events and the local sports scene. A lot of ideas have been hatched out over haircuts and community triumphs and tragedies shared. “You develop a loyal customer base through family generations by listening to what’s going on in their lives while cutting their hair and genuinely caring about them,” he added. He may be an artist with a pair of scissors and clippers, but Mark will say it also involves having a keen sense of knowing how to make customers feel good about themselves which makes his work satisfying. “People want to look good, and they take a lot of pride in the appearance of their hair so they place a lot of trust in their barber or stylist,” he explained.
Marquardt reminisces about how fast the years have gone since he started barbering and a time when his early clients never talked about the “R” word. But now most of them are retired or gone. Clip, clip, clip…some days there is nothing but white hair waiting to be swept up off the floor around his chair.
At age 77, he has reduced his workload to part time but says he enjoys being with people, which is one reason why he’s not considering retirement. “When it’s something you like doing, it’s not work. Besides, I wouldn’t know what to do if I quit. “It was a leap of faith coming to Fairfax, but the community really accepted my family and for that I’m grateful,” he said. “You don’t become rich being a barber. Prices have gone up only about 12 bucks in 50 years, but we made a good living, got the kids educated and never once drew a month of unemployment.”
He says as long as his health remains good you’ll find him standing behind his barber chair cutting hair and staying connected with the community. “It’s been a good run, and I’ve never regretted it,” he stated.