The Ottumwa Courier

Columns

April 2, 2012

A welcomed return for Rob the barber

FREMONT — It’s hard enough to start a business, but when you’re only open roughly seven months and then laid up for the next six months, getting back on your feet can be a challenge. And in the case of Rob Riley, that’s both figuratively and literally speaking.

Rob is owner of Rob’s Barber Shop in Fremont, a business he took over from Bill Ward, who had operated Bill’s Barber Shop the 49 years prior.

In early February 2011, Rob took over the barber chair. While there were certainly some established clients already there thanks to Bill, Rob had to cultivate new clients and was working hard at putting the word out that he was open for business.

And it surely wasn’t easy.

I hate to say it, but for some guys, letting a stranger “mess” with our scalps takes some getting used to. And for Rob, he had a hard act to follow in Bill.

But over those first few months, Rob made his mark and his customers continued to flock in from Fremont, Cedar, Oskaloosa, Ottumwa, Kirkville, Hedrick, Martinsburg, Sigourney, as well as some from Eldon and Batavia.

He even convinced me that yes, forget about trying to cover those bald spots on your head, just “let me cut your hair short” ... very short.

Rob was establishing his own client base, creating a new career that would keep him clipping for years to come.

That was until last September when he was seriously injured in a motorcycle racing accident.

The incident severely injured his leg and shoulder. After a visit to the hospital, physical therapy, surgery to repair the damage, followed by more physical therapy and rest at home, Rob did not return to his barber shop until six months later.

“I just felt like I had just started ... I had taken two steps forward, but then two steps back,” he said.

Six months away from a new business could be the death knell for any business owner, but Rob was lucky.

Ward, who had only retired eight months prior, dug out his clippers, and he pitched in for Rob.

“I was pretty fortunate that Bill could step back in,” Rob said.

But while Bill was able to help out, he wasn’t going to be able to keep the same hours as before and Rob’s Barber Shop was only open 2 1/2 days a week.

While Bill did what he could, Rob feared some customers would move on. After all, a shaggy head of hair can’t wait.

Three weeks ago, Rob returned to the barber shop. Picking up the clippers wasn’t easy, however.

“I was nervous at first, but it came back to me pretty quickly. Of course, Bill was right there to root me on.”

And his clients?

“They’re already coming back,” said Rob, thrilled that his frustration over being away from work has been replaced with gratitude to a loyal clientele.

“They could be going somewhere else, but they’re coming here, and I’m really grateful,” he said.

We’re grateful, too, Rob.

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