He is a local icon. His barber shop is a downtown Garden City landmark.
But after nearly 61 years, Cliff Rein, owner of Cliff’s Barber Shop at the corner of Seventh and Laurel Streets, will hang up his clippers and clean his combs one last time as he retires at the age of 84.
“It’s time,” Rein said. “I’ve been at this location for 48 years and have had a good seat to watch our community ebb and grow over the years and counted some of those who made that happen as clients. But it’s time to close the shop.”
Rein was born on a farm near Bazine on June 26, 1935. After completing the eighth grade, his father brought him home from the one-room schoolhouse southeast of Bazine to work on the farm full time. In 1954, he joined the Army, where he was a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg, N.C. He was part of the 376 Field Artillery Battalion. In 1956, he was honorably discharged with the rank of SPC4.
Training for a lifetime
Barber training in June 1958 was a six-month program and the closest school at the time was in Wichita.
“A barber supply salesman who serviced the school left word that a man in Garden City was looking for help,” said Rein. “That man was Frank Koksal. I decided to go to work for Frank because he offered a better deal than a barber in Larned that I’d spoken to. I got 75 percent of what I took in working five days a week. It was a pretty good deal.”
The barber shop where Rein worked with Koksal was called Aces High Barbershop on Fulton Street in Garden City. He was there for 12 and a half years and was part-owner with Koksal in that shop for many years. He moved to his current location on Nov. 16, 1971, after purchasing the shop’s supplies and furniture from Roy Laird. The shop came with partner Danny Reitcheck, who was already working there. Reitcheck was at that location for about four years before moving on. Rein has been a one-man shop ever since.
“When I first started out, a regular haircut was $1.25 and a flattop was $1.50,” Rein said. “Now haircuts are $18 but I usually get a lot of $20 bills and a ‘keep the change’. Some say I still give one of the best flattops in town.”
If you talk to any of his regular customers, many of them will tell you Rein’s favorite part of barbering is visiting with customers and listening to their stories, particularly the stories they would share about each other’s families. His favorite discussion topics? Grandkids and politics.
“In all the years I’ve cut hair, I would say 99 percent of my clients just wanted to visit,” he said. “I’ve had a good many customers over the years and they just want to talk about something that isn’t work-related, be it sports, their kids and grandkids or politics.”
According to his daughter, Deb Olson, one of Rein’s favorite things to do and be involved in throughout his 61 years of barbering, was to be asked to give first haircuts.
“He was the barber in many ‘first haircut’ pictures. He has cut two and three generations of “firsts” and loved it every time as he just loves kids,” Olson said. “He loved to watch them grow up, followed them in the sports pages and in other activities. He always had a box of Dum-Dum suckers in his cabinet to give out to the young ones. It was certainly a rite of passage for many boys and their parents and he was thrilled to be part of it.”
On Oct. 10, 1956, Rein married Lillyann Suppes at St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Lacrosse. They lived in Larned for 22 months and he worked at a sheet metal company before deciding to go to barber school in Wichita in 1958.
From this marriage, three children were born. Kenneth died at birth; Olson, who now lives in Lakin; and Dwayne, who died in 2015.
The apples of his eye are his grandchildren, who now range in age from 17 to 30 years old. Caitlin Olson is a second-year medical student at the University of Kansas Medical School in Kansas City, Kan. Maggie Olsen died March 4, 2012, at the age of 17. McKenzie Rein lives and works in Columbia, Mo., while Jacob Rein is attending Fort Hays State University and Zachary Rein is a senior at Lakin High School.
“Any activity that the grandchildren were in, my parents were there,” said Deb Olson. “The kids were all active in sports, band and summer sports programs — mom and dad didn’t miss a thing. My dad had a famous sign he would hang in his shop. It said, ‘May be gone sometimes to attend my grandkids’ games.’ And you can bet he also cut all of their hair, at least until the girls said it was time for them to go to a salon. But they were older than you’d think before that happened.”
As Rein retires with a reception to be held from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday at his shop, many will recall their first haircuts and how long they’ve been coming to him for barbering. And downtown Garden City will always know the corners of Seventh and Laurel as Cliff’s Barber Shop Corner.
“I’m just an old-fashioned barber that cuts hair,” Rein said. “I’ve lasted 61 years doing something I liked in two locations and I don’t know of many who can say that. I’ve been blessed by great customers and a good community. I hope I made a bit of difference in my corner of the world.”