HOLDING COURT. Regnor Reinholdsten, master potter, concludes 38 years in his Sunset Hill studio. Emily Sturdivant photo.

The businessman

At Large in Ballard by Peggy Sturdivant

Last Saturday I visited the Sunset Hill Barbershop and sat in the chair with my feet on the metal footrest. The barbershop has been there for 100 years but I'd never been inside. The single-chair shop was warm and the barber Donna Williams said business is often slow on hot Saturdays. But especially this day, "what with everything going on."

Just across the street on 32nd Northwest a farewell party was in progress encompassing three storefronts and decades of memories. When I went over to talk about the big changes on the block there was no one waiting so I sat in their chair. Gene George owns the barbershop but doesn't work on Saturdays; he was taking a few hours between his last beer at the party and heading home. Gene has been there for 25 years, Donna for 19, with Gene working Tuesday to Friday and Donna Saturday to Monday.

Throughout the early afternoon and then on into evening several hundred people passed from storefront to storefront along the sidewalk of the 6400 block of Northwest 32nd Street that had been home to two pottery studios and a hair salon. Guests included a four-month old on his dad's belly and neighbors up to the age of 99. The community came bearing food, flowers and cameras. They signed guest books and grazed at tables filled with food. Similar to a funeral, the cause of death was no longer discussed; instead the attendees compared their stages of grief.

"It was great while it lasted," someone had written, and, "this is a sad day in history." But most comments thanked the artists for giving them a place to learn how to create, and the Sunset Hill Hair Design farewell wishes made it clear they are family to all their clients. Carrie Gustafson specially introduced two guests, Mary Aoki and Ruth Nimura. "Without Ruth there would not be a Northwest Crafts Center," Carrie said. "Regnor has had a show at the Northwest Crafts Center every year." Mary Aoki confessed that her son "has a house full of Regnors" and that she loves to visit Ballard to see all the Scandinavian blue eyes.

While I was still in the barber's chair a man entered and asked if there was a wait. I offered my seat. "The businessman," he said to Donna. I noticed a chart with pictures of haircuts such as the Ivy League and the Businessman. The walls were completely covered with old signs and clippings; magazines ranged from the brown wrapper variety to Outside and Ebony. There were gumball machines and kid's videos. I asked Gene if he really gave kids a quarter on their first haircut. "Every haircut," he said. "But how it starts is that I give them a penny for the gumball machine and whatever color they get, I tell them that's the winner and give them a quarter. Every visit."

"Do you give the kids a quarter too?" I asked Donna while she buzzed the man in the chair.

"I give them a dollar," she said, which made us laugh.

A young man in a vintage hat poked in his head. "How many ahead of me?"

"Just one," Donna told him.

Then a young man with a beard came in and asked to be third; he sat down with us and we went back to talking about how people move to Edmonds or Burien but always return to Ballard for their haircuts. We looked at the man with the beard. "I live in Shoreline," he said, "but I used to live on Northwest 67th. "Are you here for the party?" I asked him.

"I'm here for the excellent haircut," he said.

A father and son eating ice cream popped in. "You can be fourth," I said.

"We'll take it," the dad said.

Gene resumed telling me about the neighborhood and how he'd fashioned a slingshot out of a coat hanger so that he could bombard the women across the street when they sat in front of the salon.

"They're our neighbors," he said. "They're our friends."

"What's going on?" the man with the beard asked. We all looked at one another, then I told him.

"Three businesses that have been part of the community for almost a hundred years put together, are all leaving at the same time. Today is the party to say goodbye."

Regnor Reinholdsten has had his pottery studio across the street for 38 years and Jacque Sigurdson's hair salon has been in her family for 50 years. In 12 years hundreds of students have taken classes with Carrie Gustafson at Lily and the People; some of her students are already second generation.

Donna dusted the first customer on his way; No. 2 sat down and removed his hat. "The businessman, please." She started to comb his hair and then said to me, "People need some kind of connection to their past and that's what we've had here. People bought their homes in this neighborhood because they liked the community feel. We don't want to lose that."

Across the street Regnor was holding court, sitting in a comfy chair flanked by his pottery. Three people were photographing him, one man was videotaping him and two people were just listening. Written in exquisite cursive in his guest book was: "Dear Regnor, You are a gem, just like your beautiful eyes. Love, Mary Aoki."

I took a last look around the mostly emptied spaces and wiped a finger across clay dust on an ancient cash register. Gene the barber nudged me and pointed to a beer in his hand. "I'm going to stay a few more hours."

The bearded man from the barbershop suddenly appeared in the former pottery studio with a plate of food. He took off his sunglasses and turned his head so that I could better admire his haircut. "What did you choose?" I asked.

"The businessman," he replied.

Peggy's e-mail is atlargeinballard@yahoo.com She writes additional pieces for the P.I.'s Ballard Webtown at http://blog.seattlepi.nwnewsource.com/balard/

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