Al’s Barbershop on Grace Street has closed its doors and I am heartbroken. Al’s was one of my favorite places in this city, and not just because it was mostly always quiet there. Al Soehn and his barbershop represent everything that’s right about Chicago and its neighborhoods. A good man running a good business, beloved by everyone in the community.
As a newbie blogger back in 2006, my third A City Mom blog ever was an homage to the place, all about taking my sons to Al’s for the first time. I’d only just discovered what everyone else knew: Al’s was a great place to get a haircut. And, if you were a mother of young boys, a great place to find some peace and quiet for an hour. At the ripe old age of two, my boys had somehow psychically intuited that men didn’t talk much at Al’s and so, neither did they. I used to be sad when we got there and there was no one else in line—it meant only thirty minutes of relative silence.
Today my sons are sixteen and for a while now have been capable of getting themselves to Al’s for a haircut under their own steam. A “You need a haircut” from me, coupled with a twenty-dollar bill and off they went (Well, off they went within a week or so. They are teenagers after all.), which means I hadn’t been in there in a while. I’d occasionally get updates from my men—where Al had been fishing last, where Al was going fishing next, and that they finally sold that monstrosity of a house across the street.
Once my sons told me Al just walked right out of the shop in the middle of the afternoon without explanation. They watched him go across the street, where he was greeted by a woman and a cup of coffee, handed over with a kiss. Working on the theory that that woman was his wife, I found myself even more charmed by Al. I’m reminded in some small way of the parable about the Mexican fisherman and the investment banker that you see posted in some Jimmy John’s.
My husband made it a point to get in to see him before the doors closed for good on the 29th and I took the boys there one last time that week before so I could say good bye. The seats were full of men waiting for their final cuts from Al. (My son Ethan later reported, one of them told Al, “Make it a good one. It’s going to be the last haircut I ever get.”) Al chatted me up, asking about work, and as much as I wanted to stay, to sit in those chairs one last time and partake in the final moments of an era, I forced myself to go. Al’s Barbershop was a manly enclave, a world I count myself as privileged to have been given a glimpse into. But I imagine that just as too much idle chitter-chatter was frowned upon inside those four walls, tears would be viewed as completely unacceptable.
Thank you Al Soehn and The Magic Razor for all the happy memories. We will miss you!
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