To celebrate his 50th anniversary at the same location — 2117 W. Main St. in Belleville — Bob Kaiser is throwing a three-day party at his place, Bob’s Barber Shop, for customers and friends.
Thursday will mark 50 years since he pulled up roots from down on the Belleville Square and went out on his own.
“Somebody asked me did I ever think when I opened here I would outlast Fischer’s (Restaurant),” he said. “Heck, I outlasted the high school.”
I wouldn’t bet against him besting Lindenwood University-Belleville, either. He doesn’t plan to retire. At age 80, he has beaten heart bypasses, neck surgery and other illness in order to keep his customers supplied with haircuts and his Cubs signs in the windows.
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He said the people he sees every day keep him young. He loves his customers.
“My daughters tell me that’s because I run off anyone I don’t love,” he said.
And he feels rejuvenated by his new neighbors, Lindenwood students.
“I don’t get that much business from them but that college is the best thing that ever happened to this neighborhood,” he said.
He still has his toys, as he calls them — three classic cars, headlined by his 1955 black Thunderbird which used to win every show he entered, he said.
And he has three daughters, seven grandsons and one brand new great-granddaughter to keep an eye on him.
He said he had more wives than he wanted to talk about. He said each one was a housekeeper because after the divorce, each one kept the house. It is an old joke, but he is an old guy and he can reel off a couple dozen more if you don’t like that one.
Kaiser grew up as a Belleville country boy, graduated from Moler Barber College in downtown St. Louis in 1959 and went to work in a shop in East Alton. He moved to the Square at Dandy Pipe & Tobacco for six years before branching out on his own in his current location in 1967.
“When I first opened up, my neighbor said it will never work,” Kaiser said. “I told him my customers would follow me here.”
He has seen a lot of changes through the years. He thought haircuts probably were about $3 when he opened. Now they are $15. But he said people complaining about the prices hasn’t changed much.
He suffered through the periods when long hair styles hurt his business and even picked up some other work to make bill payments. But he persevered, maybe because it is one of his main goals to always have fun with his customers and because he doesn’t take off from work.
Recently a customer offered him good seats for a Cardinals-Cubs game but he couldn’t use them because it was a Saturday game.
“I don’t take off work for nothing,” he said.
He plans on offering friends and customers food and drink Thursday, Friday and Saturday to celebrate his milestone.
He said he will have barbecue and cupcakes iced in Cubs blue, matching the Cubs blue smock he wears with a Cubs logo.
He has more time to talk these days because business has slowed.
“I don’t have the business I used to have,” he said. “I used to be busy all the time. It’s just as well. I can’t work that hard anymore. But I’ll be here as long as I can keep going.”
And when that happens, he has plans as well.
“I’ve lined up six customers to be my pallbearers,” he said.