Town icon changes hands

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Les Jones positions an old wooden block in front of the mirror where the barber’s chair would usually sit. It is the same wooden block he has used to prop up children for cutting hair since the late ’60s when he first opened shop on High Street.

Parents and grandparents have often reminisced over the block that they themselves used to sit on during haircuts as children.

Soon, the owner of Berwick’s longest trading business will retire after 49 years.

Les has seen Berwick grow from a small country town to a bustling suburban area.

Les glances with humble pride at the shop Jones’ Gents Hairdressing he purchased in 1968 at age 21 under a gentleman’s agreement.

Les Jones positions an old wooden block in front of the mirror where the barber’s chair would usually sit.

It is the same wooden block he has used to prop up children for cutting hair since the late ’60s when he first opened shop on High Street.

Parents and grandparents have often reminisced over the block that they themselves used to sit on during haircuts as children.

Soon, the owner of Berwick’s longest trading business will retire after 49 years.

Les has seen Berwick grow from a small country town to a bustling suburban area.

Les glances with humble pride at the shop Jones’ Gents Hairdressing he purchased in 1968 at age 21 under a gentleman’s agreement.

It was during a chance visit to Berwick to buy an engagement ring when he noticed the property was up for sale, and grabbed the opportunity.

“It is sad. Leaving makes me feel a little bit sick in the stomach,” Les admitted.

“When I first set up shop, there wasn’t much in Berwick. Back in the day, people from Melbourne didn’t even know where Berwick was.

“There used to be a house behind my shop which later became part of our extension in 1975. There was a post office on the corner, a fruit shop next door and even a blacksmith down the road.”

Les would go out every morning with a broom to sweep the front of his shop, saying good morning to the neighbouring shop owners and passersby.

“During the early days, I knew everyone in the town,” he said.

“A few of the older blokes would sit in my shop and chat all day, telling jokes and telling stories. If you wanted to know what the news was about town, people used to say, all you’d need to do is go to the barber shop.”

In 1968, rent was $12 a week, with men’s haircuts costing 90 cents and boy’s cuts just 60 cents.

Les recalled Berwick having a town guard, Jimmy Richardson, who would keep an eye on all of the shops on High Street.

Some of the more notable customers whose hair Les had cut over the years include Lord Richard Casey, the 16th Governor-General of Australia and local medical legend Dr Percy Langmore.

Aside from reaching the milestone of 70 this year, Les’ decision for retirement came after receiving the news that his kidneys were failing and that within a year he would need dialysis.

Fortunately, that was 12 years ago, and Les says he is still in good health.

“But I want to make the most of my health while I’ve got it, to travel with my wife, Kay, and see more of Australia – anywhere where there’s golfing or fishing,” he laughed.

“I have only had one holiday in all of the 49 years.

“But it hasn’t mattered. I’ve had the most wonderful staff all the way through. People have told me that I’ve been like a father to them and I still occasionally hear from ex-staffers who now live interstate.

“I don’t regret it one little bit. The business has been great for me and great for my family.”

The couple plan to take the caravan out in June to Mount Gambier and the Murray River to explore more of the country.

Retirement will also open up Les’ time to visit his two children, Kellie and Dean, and his five grandchildren – Chloe, Jai, Joshua, Yasmin and Liam – aged between nine and 14.

It was important to Les that the new owners have an appreciation of the history of the business and to look after his loyal staff who will all continue to work at the barber shop under the new management.

Les’ career began at age 16 in his hometown, Heyfield, where he worked as an apprentice men’s hairdresser.

He and Kay have been heavily involved with the Montuna and Pakenham golf clubs for decades.

Les was captain of Montuna Golf Club for three years, president for two years and on the committee for 13 years. He was also member of the Berwick Rotary Club for a few years.

Over the 29 years, the couple lived at their three-acre property off Oaktree Drive, Pakenham, and Les managed to find time in between running a business to volunteer as the bar manager at the golf club, earning him and his wife a life membership.

“Looking back, we’ve often wondered how the hell we did it. I’ve been working at the barber shop for a minimum of 70 hours a week. But it was because we loved it.”

Les jokingly said that in his retirement he hoped to lower his golf handicap as low as his wife’s.

He said that he hoped the barber’s new owners Collin and Nikki would enjoy working there as much as he has and wished them every success.

Originally published at Pakenham Gazette.

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About Alana Mitchelson

Alana Mitchelson is a journalist based in Melbourne, Australia. Follow her on Twitter at @AlanaMitchelson.

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