Businesses come and go, but in downtown Farmington, a handful of merchants have weathered decades of economic and technological shifts, establishing themselves as tried-and-true anchors of this vibrant, small-town community.
To celebrate these beloved local institutions, Metromode’s On the Ground Farmington project has been publishing a Fixtures of Farmington series, whereby we shine a spotlight on these businesses’ owners; chronicle each venture’s origin story; and gather insights on how and why these businesses, after so many years, continue to thrive.
This week, we focus on one of Farmington’s most enduring businesses, Korner Barbers, where customers who first came as boys now bring their own children and grandchildren.
Before Korner Barbers opened in 1963, and staked its claim at the intersection of Grand River and Farmington Rd., its building had been a dry goods store; a general store; Grimes Cleaners; a jewelry store; and, for a brief time, a Republican campaign office during an election year.
But these days, most of us can’t imagine a time when the space didn’t house a series of classic barber chairs.
Owner Dan Klawender started working at Korner Barbers in 1967, when he was just 19 years old.
“To this day – and my wife would tell you this, too, she’ll say, ‘He still loves getting up every day and going to the barber shop,’” says Klawender, who also noted that the conversations he has with his customers, and the connections that result, are what keep his job enjoyable.
What started Klawender on this path?
“When I was growing up, my dad cut my hair, and I thought, ‘Well, if he can do it, so can I,’” said Klawender, who grew up in Farmington. “And I liked doing it. … I used to cut a lot of my buddies’ hair. Back when I worked at a Clark Gas Station, I’d sometimes cut my friends’ hair in the bathroom.” (This despite the fact that Klawender didn’t get his own hair cut by a professional until he was a senior in high school.)
Meanwhile, Gene’s Barbershop, which predated Korner (and shared space with the Old Village Inn where John Cowley & Sons now stands), was purchased from Eugene Paris by two of his barber-employees, Andy Haines and Bob Marshick, in 1962. (Marshick is now semi-retired, but still works on Tuesday and Saturday mornings at Korner.)
Korner Barbers owner Dan Klawender. Photo by David Lewisnki.
“This spot (at Farmington and Grand River) became available, so they moved the shop over here,” says Klawender.
Marshick and Haines offered Klawender a job just months after he graduated from barber school.
“After I’d worked here a couple of years, I decided to look for a place where I could have a shop of my own, but Bob and Andy asked me to stay after work one night, and they said, ‘Why don’t you stay here, and we’ll make it a three-way partnership.’ I said, ‘OK, I’ll try it.’ … And even though we were all different ages, we always got along. They were just really good guys.”
This friendship between the three men seems to have built an unshakable foundation so that Korner Barbers has endured the decades not despite its old-fashioned values and atmosphere, but because of them.
For example, Klawender invites local organizations to build a display in Korner’s high-visibility window to promote themselves, or an upcoming event, free of charge; customers have, for years, donated antiques to Korner, where they fit right in with the rustic, barn-like interior; and customers who first came as boys to Korner have often returned with their children, and sometimes grandchildren.
Korner even survived the 70s, which was perhaps America’s most haircut-averse era.
“A lot of shops didn’t survive, particularly those in college towns,” said Klawender, who vividly remembers young boys fighting with their mothers about climbing into the barber chair. “ … But Farmington was starting to grow at that time, too, so we started getting more businessmen coming in. So the way that the town was growing actually helped us.”