Categorized | IN OUR COMMUNITY

Family-owned barbershop continues a 52-year tradition

Posted on 28 August 2017 by calvin

Story and photos by STEPHANIE FOX
In early August 1965, barber Ed Martin Sr. first opened the doors on his brand new barbershop. His sign announced that ‘Mug and Brush Hair,’ located near the corner of 34th Ave. and 50th St. in the East Nokomis neighborhood, was opened for business. The shop is still there.

It was a different time. The President, LBJ, had just announced a program called Medicare. There was no Big Mac (you’d have to wait two years). Gasoline cost 33¢ a gallon and the Dow Jones was going gangbusters, with 39 record closes, ending the year at 969.26.

As far as the barber business was concerned, buzz cuts and flattops were still popular, and sales of Brylcreem were strong. But, there was a popular new look, influenced by the Beatles and the British Invasion. Some fashionable men were starting to grow their hair longer, even over their ears. Sideburns were becoming the rage.

Martin had just gotten out of the military. He’d been called up during the 1961 Berlin Crisis and was sent to a base in Georgia to prepare to be deployed. But, the crisis ended quickly, and he never had to go to war with the Russians. Instead, he started cutting his fellow soldier’s hair, finding that he was good at it. When he got back to civilian life, he took a job at Honeywell. But, he started thinking about barbering as a profession. After a stint at barber school, the Mug and Brush Hair was born.

Past customers included a Vice PresidentWhile many of the shop’s customers came from the neighborhood and the local military base, celebrities showed up, too. Martin would get calls from the White House when Vice President Hubert Humphrey (photo right) was expected in town. Humphrey’s kids would also come for haircuts.

Part of the shop’s early success came because of changing hairstyles and Martin Sr.’s business acumen. “There was a turning point in hairstyle,” said his son and now-owner Ed Martin Jr. “A lot of old-time barbers refused to cut long hair. At the time, it was illegal for barbers to cut hair on Mondays, but you could if you were a beauty shop. So, dad brought in hairdressers and opened six days a week.”

“Then in the 1980s, tanning was big, so we opened on Sundays for tanning,” he said.

Somewhere along the line the word Design was added to the business name, although Martin Jr. is not sure when that actually happened.

Ed Jr second generation owner of Mug and BrushToday, the shop is one of the few family-owned barbershops left in the Twin Cities. Ed Martin, Jr. (photo right) runs it now that his father is retired. Craig Martin, Ed Jr.’s uncle, works there too. It is one of a group of family-owned business near that corner, but it’s part of a dying tradition. (photo right) runs it now that his father is retired. Craig Martin, Ed Jr.’s uncle, works there too. It is one of a group of family-owned business near that corner, but it’s part of a dying tradition.

Ed Jr. predicts that there will soon be fewer barber shops and more beauty shops—they have different licenses and different rules—and in 15 or so years, the licenses will combine. “Barber shops are falling out of favor, and fewer people are going into that business,” he said.

The barber life was a natural for the son. “I remember coming into the shop when I was a kid to visit my dad. I never thought of doing anything else,” he said. In 1989, at age 19, Ed Jr. attended Moler Barber School and then joined his father at Mug and Brush. Ed Sr., now 77-years old, retired in 2010. He still comes in to visit, but he doesn’t cut hair, preferring the leisure life.

Most important to Ed Jr. is his connection to the community. “You get to know your customer base. We’ve been cutting hair for generations of customers. We watch people grow up. We get invited to graduations and weddings. This is like family.”

Longtime customer Tom TheisPhoto left: Mug and Brush Hair Design owner Ed Martin Jr. cuts the hair of longtime customer Tom Theis. Mug and Brush has been serving customers for 52 years.

The crew—three men, including Ed, and four women—tend to stay. One of younger hair cutters is in her 40s, and another has been there 40 years, longer than Ed Jr. has been managing the place.

But the landscape is changing, he said. “When my dad opened up Mug and Brush, there were 7,000 independently owned barber shops in Minnesota. Now, it’s down to a couple of thousand. Back then, every corner had a barbershop. “Now, it’s hard to find ones that aren’t corporate cut-rate places. With the economy, small shops are going by the wayside.”

Mug and Brush Hair Design, however, is thriving. Enter the front door, and the place seems like a tiny one-room operation. But head up the stairs or into the back of the shop, and you’ll find five rooms on three floors, with barber chairs for cuts and bonnet hair dryers for women who have weekly wash and set appointments. The customer base is 50 percent male and 50 percent female. “During a regular day, we can get from 25 to 75 customers,” Martin said. “I can put in 11 hours a day. Everyone is always booked up.”

As far as family-owned businesses, the neighborhood around Mug and Brush may be different than many in the Twin Cities. There are two other long-time family-owned stores on the corner with Mug and Brush. McDonald’s Liquor and Wine has been around for about 70 years, and the Nokomis Shoe Shop has been part of the neighborhood for 86 years.

As the youngest business at 52 years, Martin said, “We’re going to be here a long time, too.”

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