A little bit before 7:30 a.m. Saturday, Aggieville Barber and Style Shop was already in operation with one man in the chair and three men waiting in line.
“I hoped it wouldn’t be as busy,” said barber Phil Kuehl.
The sign in the window lists 8 a.m. as the time the shop is supposed to open on Saturdays.
However, Phil said he can’t think of the last time he’s actually opened at the official start time.
“I’ve always got here early to get things ready and set the coffee,” he said. “People would wait in line, and I figured, why make them wait?”
The barber shop has a long history in Aggieville, first opening where the Dusty Bookshelf sits today.
“It’s been here since there’s been an Aggieville, probably,” Phil said.
There have been five barbers since the current location on 12th Street next to Kite’s Bar and Grill opened in 1949 including the two there now: Phil, a barber at the shop since September 1960, and Jed Mosher.
Jed has worked with Phil for 25 years, spending 13 hours a day with him.
“We get along pretty well,” he said. “I spend more time with Phil than I do with my wife.”
Showing the comfort after a quarter century working together, Jed began to mess with Phil a little bit.
“How long is this story going to be?” Jed asked as Phil talked.
Phil grew up in Onaga on a farm.
When picking a career, he said he didn’t want to take the path of his father.
“There’s nothing wrong with it,” Phil said. “I enjoyed my life growing up on a farm, but it wasn’t for me.”
Phil eventually ended up Manhattan, a college town, but he also knew he didn’t want to go to college.
That eventually led him to the barber in Onaga.
“He said you’d make a good living, but you’ll never be rich,” Phil said. “He was right. That’s why I’m still working at 73.”
After coming to Manhattan, he initially worked downtown before joining Aggieville Barber nearly 54 years ago.
“I was still in grade school then,” said Norval Spielman, a customer of 15 years, as Phil cut his hair.
“Now you’re making me feel old.”
“You are old.”
Phil said he has some customers whose hair he’s been cutting for 50 years since they were in junior high school.
“I don’t know why they stay with you,” he said. “You just build up a clientele. Hopefully, you give a good haircut. Talk to people. Get to know them.”
Phil said a barber has to hustle for success.
“All you have to sell is yourself,” he said. “You have to treat people right.”
The walls in the shop tell the story of years of customers satisfied.
The Mercury’s 2013 Readers Choice Award for best barber shop hangs between the two mirrors.
A customer gave Phil the stuffed birds lining the shop’s walls.
Clients taking a seat in Phil’s chair can look up on the wall and see framed photos with messages from three customers from the K-State athletics world.
K-State track coach Cliff Rovelto: “Phil, thanks for your support and friendship.”
K-State men’s basketball coach Bruce Weber: “To Phil, the best haircut in town. Go Cats!”
K-State football coach Bill Snyder: “Greatly appreciate you, Phil.”
With his 55th year in the business coming up in December, Phil is starting to think to think about his exit.
“If I could find somebody to come in here next week and take over, I’d leave,” he said.
“Believe it or not, standing on your legs all day is hard work.”
Phil said it’s about finding a good fit, but he said the person who eventually takes his place will step into a good business.
“There just isn’t any young men getting into it,” he said. “It’s not many benefits to being a barber as far as health insurance and vacation days because you’re self employed.”
Until the final haircut happens, Phil said he’s fortunate to have the shop.
“Talk about getting lucky sometimes,” he said.
By 8:30 a.m., Phil was working on his fourth customer, and more men started to come in.
“Just an old-style barber shop,” he said.