Beyond the clippers: Dickinson barbers talk growth, cutting hair
There aren’t many barber shops left in America where a customer can get a haircut for $5 and a Coke for 50 cents.
Prices have been the same for a while, too. Owner Ted Kostelecky said he can’t remember the last time he raised his price for a haircut or when his soda machine required less than a couple of quarters.
“If I was charging $6, I’d be retired already,” Kostelecky said Jan. 24 during a busy afternoon in his tiny shop. “It’s been awhile since it was any different. We’ll just keep it where it is. I’m here for the locals — the working trade.”
Kostelecky picked up his first scissors as a professional at age 17 in 1957 — “you do the math” for his age, he said — and, in reality, not an awful lot has changed over the years at Ted’s. Kostelecky used to have his business in downtown Dickinson. He moved about 25 years ago, he said, and the city is a busier place than ever before, though he said the Bakken oil boom hasn’t affected him very much.
“We get more people in, but it’s still mostly locals that walk through the door,” Kostelecky said. “I love what I do. I have great-grandchildren of people I went to school with come in. If I retired, I’d miss the people. Besides, I don’t know how many times I’ve seen someone retire and, six months later, they’re in the cemetery.”
‘All things change except barbers’
Like many other genres in Dickinson, the hair styling and grooming business is booming these days. Wherever a person goes to get a trim or a new ’do will likely be busy, but the experience will vary.
While Ted’s has its own niche in the marketplace, the city offers a variety of stylists specializing in men’s grooming.
At the Queen City Barber Shop downtown, the atmosphere is a lot like Ted’s. Mark Twain’s quote “all things change except barbers” hangs on the wall. Though owner Johnney Elsbernd said he has witnessed a big influx of customers since the oil boom picked up a couple of years ago.
“We see at least one new face every day — literally every day,” Elsbernd said. “There’s hardly a state that we haven’t had someone in from and we’ve had a lot of people from other countries, too. It’s kind of amazing for a town this size.”
A Crosby native, Elsbernd bought the shop in 1970 and has been in Dickinson ever since. He’s also not planning on getting out of the business anytime soon. He has another good 20 years in him, he said. Elsbernd said he and assistant Jeremy Skaley are usually busy all day long with customers old and new.
Another Crosby native, Dave Enebo, runs the Interstate Barbershop located inside Dickinson’s Ramada Grand Dakota Lodge.
Enebo moved to Dickinson in 1972 and has been cutting hair in the Queen City ever since. Hettinger resident Elmer Zimmermann said during a touch-up on Jan. 29 that he has been going to Enebo for about 30 years.
“I come up here because I like how Dave cuts hair,” Zimmermann said. “He’s a barber, not a beautician. There’s a difference.”
In fact, when Enebo moved to Dickinson in the 1970s, he roomed with Elsbernd for a time. Enebo said it’s a very different town these days.
“When I came here, there was hardly anything on the north side of the interstate in Dickinson,” Enebo said. “There was a little trailer park where Applebee’s is now. There’s been good and bad with the oil boom here. A lot of the locals are tired of the boom. I have probably four or five clients every year now that move away because the cost of living is so high. Many are on a fixed income and they move to the Black Hills or to Bismarck.”
North of Interstate 94 are even more options for the haircut-inclined, including one of the newest additions to the grooming community — Men’s Den, which is located in the retail building that also houses Wildcat Pizzeria and Blue Hawk Audio & Video.
At Men’s Den, customers will pay more than a Lincoln for a styling — they also offer a straight-edged shave and above-the-waist waxing and pedicures — but they’re also able to have a beer, watch a game on any one of the TVs located throughout the plush establishment and have access to WiFi.
The salon is obviously geared toward men, but women and children are also welcome, said owner Laurie Wahl.
“It’s like a sports bar here — a big man cave,” Wahl said. “We have a staff of six stylists and the girls just love working here. We hear a lot of stories, some of which wouldn’t be suitable for print, but there’s never a dull moment. We have great customers that come in. It’s fun.”
With all the newcomers in and around Dickinson these days, Wahl said customers will sometimes come in and ask for a hairstyle her employees don’t recognize.
“Usually when that happens, they’re just from somewhere else and have a different name for a style that we do,” Wahl said. “It’s interesting. We do a lot of fades now, but we’ll get requests for just about anything you can think. We do mullets. You can go on our Facebook page and look at some of the different haircuts we’ve done. It’s kind of entertaining.”
Men’s Den doesn’t take appointments, but Big Sky Barbers just up the road does and there will certainly be competition. In existence since 1965, Paul Ellerkamp purchased Big Sky in 2005, just in time to witness how the oil boom has changed — and continues to change — Dickinson.
“I came during the calm before the storm,” said Ellerkamp, who was later joined by his co-barber and brother, Matt. “You hear people talk about being in the right place at the right time and that’s what this was. I was in Fargo and I thought that was a melting pot, but it’s been an entirely level here with the oil boom.”
With the slogan “old-school service, new-school style,” Big Sky is also a throwback barber shop. During the interview for this story, Paul and Matt were dressed meticulously with shirts and ties and were quick to find out what’s going with their customers. Matt’s customer chatted with him about his recent moose hunt in Montana.
“It’s all about relationships,” Paul said. “We want to know what’s going on in your life. We’re a community barber shop, so we have a lot of customers who have been coming here since the 1960s, but we’re also blessed to have all of our new customers, too. We usually get at least one every day.”
Like Queen City, Big Sky’s only customers are men. Paul said his shop has never had a problem with the men who come to the Bakken for work in the oil fields or other related industries.
“We’re much busier because of the oil fields,” Paul said. “If we weren’t, we’d be doing something wrong. It’s exciting because of all the variety and people’s stories. Some of these oil people have been all over the world, and what we hear again and again from a lot of people is that they’ve never been to a place where the people are so nice. Probably the biggest two complaints we hear are not enough restaurants and the cost of living.”
Reflections on past, present
All far as actual hairstyles, all seemed to agree on one thing — styles come and go, and often come full circle.
“Back in the ’60s and ’70s, it was long hair,” Elsbernd said. “There was a period where I don’t think I cut a head of hair with a clippers for about 10 years. Now, it seems like styles from back in the ’50s are coming back — sort of that GQ look. With the number of Southerners we have in the area, we get a lot of flattops, too. There are only so many ways you can style it, so things are bound to come back around.”
Sitting with his friend, John Friesz, on a recent January afternoon in his shop, Kostelecky said he has seen a lot of changes in Dickinson over the years. Some good and some bad.
“It’s a different town,” Kostelecky said. “This oil boom has been an interesting thing. It’s hurt a lot of local people. I know quite a few who left town because it just got too expensive to live here. A lot went to Fargo or down to Spearfish. I know other barbers in town are staying open late because there’s business to be had. That’s not me, though. If there’s nobody here at 5, I’m going home.”
Almost as soon as Kostelecky got those words out of his mouth, however, a pair of area ranchers came in looking for a touch-up. A few minutes after that, another strolled in.
In the world of Dickinson barbershops, there’s always work to be done.