MISSOULA – As longtime customer Mike Pecarich climbed into the barber’s chair for his last haircut from Steve Boldizar, he wasn’t sure what to say or do after 50 years.
“It’s devastating because I’m so used to having him do my hair, and all I have to do is sit in the chair and he knows exactly how I want my hair done. I’ll miss all the camaraderie between the customers,” Pecarich said.
After 57 years in downtown Missoula, Capital Barbershop is closing its doors in the Studebaker Building. Zootown Arts Community Center bought the Main Street building last year and soon will move into the downtown icon.
After finishing the cut and reminiscing about old times, Boldizar turned the chair around and Pecarich looked in the mirror.
“Mick, you look like a million dollars,” Boldizar said.
“Well, I’ll always remember this haircut, Steve,” came the reply.
Boldizar’s stories are a staple in the shop, where knick-knacks cover the walls in homage to its history. Throughout March, Boldizar intends to sell the things he’s collected from customers over the years.
He enjoys retelling the stories behind each piece, reminiscing about the customer who gave him the gift.
“I got Australian friends, I got a retired banker in Israel, I’ve had ‘em from Germany. I mean, I’m not bragging, but in 57 years, I made friends with everybody. Just good people, you talk to them and you have a good time,” he said.
From sports pennants to framed pictures of dogs playing poker to a random parking meter and Russian insignias, Baldizar’s collection of memorabilia is impressive.
Slowly, his collectibles are being taken down and stacked on top of his 1960s Koken barber chairs with built-in ashtrays, also a rare find.
He plans to close up shop by March 9 and be moved out of the Studebaker by April.
“Nobody would believe me unless I can sit with you like this. When I start talking like this, a guy said, ‘You should write a book, man,’ ” Boldizar recalled. “I said, ‘Nobody would believe me, ‘cause it’s the truth.’ ”
One day, he was telling a story at the barbershop when a man waiting for a haircut started laughing.
“I said, ‘What the hell are you laughing at?’ ” Boldizar said. “He said, “Steve, I was in this barbershop nine years ago and I heard that same story word for word.’ ”
Stories are his specialty. He likes to tell about the retired teacher from Hellgate High School who gave him five pictures of dogs playing poker, which Boldizar framed.
And about the young boy who sent a note after a recent visit with his mother, thanking him for the “haircut and shave.”
“I will never forget you,” the letter read.
A framed mortician’s license from another customer hangs on the wall, and Boldizar talks about the times he cut “A River Runs Through It” author Norman Maclean’s hair.
A Detroit Tigers pennant was the first he received from a customer, along with a 1968 World Series ticket. On the wall, a rotary phone still takes calls for haircuts, alongside a barbershop clock that can only be read in a mirror’s reflection.
“This is all real,” he said.
Boldizar’s parents immigrated to the U.S. before he was born in 1936 in West Virginia. His parents died when he was a boy; after high school, he went into the U.S. Air Force, then to barber school after he served. He and his wife Judy raised three daughters in Missoula.
“My dad was a tailor,” Boldizar remembered. “He said, ‘The shoemaker, the tailor and the barber, they’ll never get rich but they won’t starve.’ So I decided to try barber college.”
He started cutting hair in 1963 as an apprentice at City Center Barbershop on East Main Street. In 1968, he opened Capital Barbershop in an old Texaco gas station at Front and Ryman streets, moving to the Studebaker Building in 1985.
“I’m going to be 83 in June, so maybe it’s time (to retire),” Boldizar said. “These guys’ hair that I just cut today, they don’t know where they’re going to go.”
He’ll always cherish the memories he’s made in the shop, he said, and hopes that his collectibles will bring joy to the people who buy them.
“It’s been a life,” Boldizar said.
In the shop’s window, a “Closed” sign stands in front of drawn blinds at all times, even during business hours. The regulars know that even when the shop looks closed, their barber is inside, waiting for his next customer.
Later this week, when Boldizar closes his shop for good, he’ll finally turn that sign around to “Open.”
-Mari Hall is a reporter for the Missoula Current and can be contacted via email at email@example.com.