They say if you want to know what’s going on in the city, head to the barbershop.
“But I tell people that they can’t believe everything they hear and only half of what they see,” says Bill Cook with a laugh. Cook owns Bob’s Barbershop on 211 East Michigan Street in Downtown Mt. Pleasant.
Recently, walking down the street taking pictures for another assignment, I watched a man stroll into Bob’s and immediately walk out with a donut in his hand and a smile on his face. So, with either a hunch for a good story or a chance at a donut, I walked in.
On the inside, Bob’s is cabin-like; exposed stone, wood paneling, stuffed fish, deer, and elk mounted on the walls. With handshakes, belly-laughs, and conversation going on around the barber’s chairs, it feels more like a living room than a barbershop.
When I walked in, Cook was sitting in a barber’s chair watching an employee throw a cape over a customer getting ready for a haircut. I asked him if I could take some pictures and talk to him about his business.
“Of course!” he said with a smile, a handshake, and without missing a beat.
His father, Bob Cook, opened the business after some encouragement from one of Central Michigan University’s former presidents, Judson Foust. Foust would come into the barbershop the elder Cook worked at as an employee, and one day during a haircut, he expressed a desire to have a barbershop on campus.
“He told my dad that he wanted him to be the one to do it, and so my dad opened the first barbershop on CMU’s campus,” explains Bill Cook.
That was over 60 years ago, and some of Bob’s original customers still make the monthly pilgrimage to the shop for a haircut and conversation. While Bob’s Barbershop is now downtown instead of on-campus, Bill carries the history and expertise with him by working alongside his father in the business for more than 35 years.
In an era of big-box stores threatening the existence of local small businesses, Bill says some things have contributed to keep his barbershop open and his customers happy for the past three decades.
“Consistency and giving customers what they want,” Bill says. “One person’s ‘short’ isn’t another person’s ‘short’ so you have to listen to customers. You have to be willing to work hard and be open when customers need you to be open. I’m here every day at 4:30am, and we’re open on Saturdays.”
Taking a “little off the top” in a way that keeps customers coming back for 60 years is a tall order, but Bob’s Barbershop has risen to the challenge - one donut, one haircut, and one conversation at a time.