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Popular Fargo barber retiring after 45 years

After 45 years of cutting hair, Don Brehmer probably has more friends than just about anyone in Fargo-Moorhead.

Thousands of people - from bank presidents to college presidents to captains of industry to school janitors to farmers - have sat down in his chair at Graver Barbers in downtown Fargo to get trimmed during his long career.

"I've met some really good people over the years and many of them have become friends," says the 62-year-old Brehmer. "That's what I'm going to miss the most, all those great people."

Brehmer's last day will be Friday. He's retiring after 23 years at Graver Barbers.

"I've watched lots of kids grow up," says Brehmer. "I gave many of them their first haircuts. I've watched them get married and have their own families. Now I'm cutting the hair of their kids."

One can only imagine the number of invitations Brehmer has received to weddings and graduations over the years. And he's attended a good many funerals, too.

When kids come home to visit their relatives in the area, Brehmer says they often stop by and update him on what's been going on in their lives.

"I made the decision to retire about a year ago," says Brehmer, who started out at 9 years old shining shoes at his father's barbershop at Camp Ripley, Minn., for 25 cents a pair. He switched to barbering at age 17.

"I've been standing on my feet for 45 years and my shoulders and feet are pretty sore by the end of the day," he says.

Every day, Monday through Friday, from 7:30 to 5, Brehmer has been at work, averaging 25 to 30 haircuts a day.

"The name of the game in this business is to be available to your customers," he says, "and I tried to be available as much as I could."

He never took much vacation. He'd take a couple days here and there during deer hunting season and to hunt pheasants in southwestern North Dakota.

Brehmer is also known for his black Labrador retrievers, Jet and Bugs, who always came to work with him and got to know all the customers. Bugs has been with him for almost seven years. She's a top-notch hunting dog, as was her predecessor, Jet.

Bugs will be leaving with her master. "As long as she has Don in sight, she'll be OK," says son Joel, 39, who has barbered with his dad for 12 years and will continue to run the business. Another son, Ryan, 32, will join his brother as another third-generation Brehmer barber. The brothers plan to continue the tradition of having hunting dogs at the shop.

Brehmer says he's grateful because so many of his regular customers have said they'll continue to get their hair cut at the Graver by one of his sons.

There have been a multitude of changes in the barbering business since Brehmer started cutting hair for $1.75. Those haircuts are now $15.

"It's gone from flattops to long hair to short hair and everything in between," says Brehmer. "I remember the time when I cut flattops all day long.

"We've tried to maintain a men's barbershop in this era of hair salons. You don't see any pretty doilies or fancy wallpaper in here. We hope there will always be a place for an establishment like ours."

The Graver was always a popular place around Christmas because Brehmer would put out a spread of deer sausage for his regulars. You could also get a shot of cognac to wash it down.

Over the years, Brehmer cut hair at three different places in Fargo. He started out at NDSU, then moved to the Grand Barbers before moving to the Graver in 1984 to become a partner with the late Jim Clow. There's been a barbershop in the Graver building for 80 years, says Brehmer.

He plans to do more hunting, play more golf, spend more time with his six grandchildren and do more traveling in his retirement.

"Every day my wife has a new project for when we retire," says Brehmer. His wife, Lois, is also retiring soon from her 23-year career at NDSU's Varsity Mart.

"I've never regretted going into barbering," says Brehmer. "It's been a pretty good life."

He's been through good times and bad times during his career and son Joel says his father has always been a good listener.

"I've never tried to solve people's problems, but I've always been willing to listen to them," says Brehmer. "I've been through weddings, divorces, job changes and deaths in the family. I remember the time one of my good customers lost two sons. All I could do is listen."

"It's going to be real different without him standing next to me," says Joel. "Fortunately, Ryan and I get along very well."

Brehmer will be back every now and then for a brief stint when one of his sons has to be gone for a day or two.

Being a barber must be a bit like learning to walk. You never forget how to do it.

Readers can reach Terry DeVine at

(701) 241-5515 or tdevine@forumcomm.com

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