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A half-century of trimming hair and tall tales


Local barber celebrates 50 years in business

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK  - Larry Dixon, 68, sits in his Rosewood neighborhood barbershop reminiscing about clients he has had over the years. Dixon recently hit the 50 year mark in the barber business.

In recent years, the existence of corner barber shops have been clipped by the emergence of full-service salons.

But one local business owner has devoted half a century behind a barber chair and continues to cater to a multigenerational client base.

“You don’t make a lot of money doing what I do,” said Larry Dixon, owner of The Razor’s Edge in the Rosewood Neighborhood of East Portland “But you don’t need a lot of money, no one does.” 

The walls of Dixon’s tidy shop are rich with nostalgic flashbacks. They speak to a lifetime of stories in a place where walk-in strangers became lifelong friends.

Dixon, 68, was born and raised in the Willamette Valley. His father was a logger and growing up a block from the local saw mill made him realize the industry wasn’t for him.

“I was raised in the small town of Sweet Home, where you either went to work in mills or the salt mine,” Dixon said. “I decided when I was in sixth grade that I wanted to be a haircutter.” 

Dixon admitted he had hated school and was holding out until he received an eighth-grade diploma. While in school though, “the rules changed,” he said, and in order to enroll in barber school he had to finish high school.

Both of Dixon’s brothers went to barber school and became haircutters. Dixon followed in their footsteps, earning his license when he was 19. He was the first student to enroll in the Salem Barber College, and among a graduating class of 20.

After running a barbershop with his oldest brother in Corvallis, Dixon opened The Razor’s Edge in 1971 on Southeast 160th Avenue and Stark Street where he worked for 30 years. When his lease was up, Dixon said he “went looking for a place to move but couldn’t find anything I liked, so I came home.” He has operated his shop from his home the last 10 years. 

His one-room shop displays a worn in black leather swivel chair he has had since the 1970s. Dixon has only had four sets of silver clippers in his career and still works with the original motorized Oster clipper he used in Barber School. 

Dixon will show you memorabilia of his craft, like the authentic 1930s razor sharpener used when metals were hard to come by. One framed poster demonstrates the simplicity of a time when haircuts were a mere $2. 

The unrushed, conversational atmosphere takes the errand aspect out of getting a haircut.

“When I first started out, over 90 percent of people came in for flat tops and crew cuts,” Dixon said. “People then started sporting longer hair and were coming in more for styling.”

The oldest client Dixon has worked on was 92 years old. His youngest client was an 18-month-old who received his first haircut. 

“I use to do a lot of first haircuts,” he said. 

Dixon’s career, however, hasn’t been without mishaps. He recalled one time when he had a slip up in the shop. 

“One of my clients came when he was about 6,” he said. “He moved faster than I could and I nicked him on the ear. I’ve only nicked one ear and boy, do they bleed.” 

The incident apparently didn’t deter the boy, since he was a regular customer for years after that. But Dixon still considers it the worst thing he ever did to a client. 

Dixon is on a first name basis with the bulk of his clients. With most of them, he immediately recognizes their voice when they call before they even get through saying hello. He rarely books appointments anymore, since most clients are prone to calling and dropping by the same day.

He opens shop each day at 9 a.m. and closes at 5 p.m., performing anywhere from zero to eight haircuts a day. 

“My wife teases me now. She says you don’t have a business, you have a hobby,” Dixon said. 

His favorite part about barbering is interacting with his clients. He enjoys sharing the ups and downs of life with them. And one thing barbering is particularly notorious for is the chatter.

Closeness formed between a man and his barber is inevitable, especially if that man has been a client for decades. 

“He’s been trimming ends and swapping stories with clients in leather swivel chairs for longer than I’ve been alive,” said Jason Arias, Dixon’s son-in-law.

Steve Okazaki, who has been a client for over 20 years, comes in every four or five weeks for a trim. He and Dixon talk about anything, “from daily politics to sports, just everything.”

“It’s nice to come in and BS,” Okazaki laughed. “He has his full attention on you and all of his clients.”

Dixon’s nephew, Andrew Dixon, said, “Uncle L has never charged me for a haircut. There has never been a date or dinner I’ve shown up to where I didn’t have a good haircut.”

Aside from cutting hair, Dixon enjoys deer hunting and fishing. “If there’s water, I fish it,” he said. “Anywhere from the coast to the high Cascades.” 

Barbering is considered by many as a dying profession any more, with fewer people entering the industry. Which leaves one to wonder how Dixon has hung in there all these years.

“You’re never going to get rich doing it, and you might make a living out of it if you’re lucky,” Dixon said. “I’m extremely conservative. You have to be conservative to be in any small business otherwise you’re not going to make it. But I don’t think I would ever be happy doing something where you don’t get to know people.”

Things to know

Who: The Razor's Edge

What: Barber services by appointment only. For more information, call 503-255-6777.