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Published: Monday, 7/17/2006

Popular barber retiring after many close shaves

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Tom Smith jokes with Clay Hepler, his last customer before retiring. Tom Smith jokes with Clay Hepler, his last customer before retiring.
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Tom Smith spent nearly 40 years at the elite Toledo Club near downtown and became an institution.

He served generations of Toledo's leaders and businessmen, and his retirement last month as the club's barber marked the end of an era for many members who have sat in his chair, as well as their fathers and sons in some cases.

"I'm going to miss the members, because we are all like a family here," Mr. Smith said. "Everyone who comes in here, I can tell you the story of their whole family."

In nearly 40 years, few things have changed for his business.

"We always do certain things in this shop - things they have done here for a hundred years," Mr. Smith, 63, said. "Customer always gets a hot towel and some lotion, then a shoe shine."

He had trouble singling out the most memorable moments of his long career, saying they were all good times.

The most obvious thing he has noticed in recent years is a shift in the club's membership from older to younger.

"I think this is a good place to network, and a lot of the younger people, even if they have lost their jobs, would stay here as a member and be working someplace else soon enough," he said. "In the past, there would be a lot of men in their 60s, and now you see a good number of men in their 40s and even 30s."

Mr. Smith has seen his share of celebrities over the years, including Jamie Farr, Bruce Jenner, Bob Hope's son, and several well-known golfers and musicians.

Members said they were sorry to see Mr. Smith retire.

"I'd have to take up the whole afternoon to tell you what a great person he is," said Clay Hepler - a retired Toledo businessman who was Mr. Smith's last official customer.

"I've never seen him in a bad mood, and I've always enjoyed the time I've spent here," Mr. Hepler added.

A Sandusky native, Mr. Smith worked at a small barbershop there until he was drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War. He worked as a crew chief on a helicopter during the war.

When he returned to the United Sates in 1967, there was an opening at the Toledo Club.

"When I heard this shop had an opening, and that you got Saturdays and Sundays off, that was a big plus," Mr. Smith said. "I really am going to miss it, but it's time to move on and do something else with my life."

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.


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