‘Never dreaded coming to work’: longtime owner of The Malls Barber Shop retiring after 38 years

photo by: Lauren Fox

Bob Brandt, owner of The Malls Barber Shop, is pictured on Sept. 29, one day before his retirement.

One of the hardest parts of Bob Brandt’s 53-year career as a barber, he said, is leaving it.

Wednesday is Brandt’s last day as owner of The Malls Barber Shop, a fixture of the Lawrence community since 1959. Brandt has been the owner of the shop, located at 711 W. 23rd Street, for 38 years.

When asked how he originally got into the hair business, Brandt said it just looked like it would be a fun thing to do.

“It turned out to be a little bit more than fun. It turned out to be a life career,” he said. Brandt, now 71, started cutting hair at 18.

photo by: Lauren Fox

Bob Brandt owned The Malls Barber Shop for 38 years. He’s pictured in the shop on Sept. 29, 2020.

Brandt moved to Lawrence in 1972, and bought The Malls Barber Shop from its original owner in 1982. By that point, Brandt said, the business was pretty well established. 23rd Street was a busy thoroughfare, and it was one of the southernmost points in town. Even as Lawrence has expanded and 23rd Street has become less busy due to the South Lawrence Trafficway, he said the shop has endured.

“I think as the city grows you got to learn to grow with it,” Brandt said.

The longtime barber said he likes the profession due to the interaction with his customers. His favorite memories, he said, are occasions on which he’s gotten to work with three generations of the same family. Clients who were parents have turned into grandparents, and Brandt said he’s especially going to miss working with “the little guys.” He’s cut the hair of kids as young as six months, and he’s gotten to watch as some of his clients have graduated from their parent’s lap, to his booster seat (which he calls the board), to the main chair.

Brandt said the shop sees a combination of community members and university students. The barber shop is decked out in University of Kansas photos, newspaper clippings and decorations. Some the shop provided, Brandt said. Others are gifts from community members.

photo by: Lauren Fox

Bob Brandt owned The Malls Barber Shop for 38 years. He’s pictured in his barber shop on Sept. 29, 2020.

When asked if he has a favorite haircut to give, Brandt said, “Well, I’ll tell you what, we’ve seen a lot of them in the past 38 years.”

Every four or five years, there’s a new hair fad, Brandt said. He enjoys having university students come in because some out of state clients “bring different ideas with them and different haircuts,” he said. “Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s been a lot of fun.”

Brandt said that two of the biggest life lessons he’s learned in his career are the importance of patience and how to get along with people. Things don’t always go so well if a haircut is hurried, he said, and since the client base can be so varied, “you’ve got to be pretty versatile.”

Brandt has had 11 different barbers working alongside him throughout his years at The Malls. Now, his current colleague, Jeff Brown, will take over as owner. Brown has worked at The Malls Barber Shop for 31 years.

photo by: Lauren Fox

Bob Brandt, right, will transfer ownership of The Malls Barber Shop to Jeff Brown, left, on Oct. 1.

Though Brandt is worried about his transition to retirement, it’s not going to be as abrupt as it could be. On Nov. 3, he’ll return to The Malls Barber Shop to work two days a week, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Otherwise, in his free time, he plans to travel more with his wife.

Brandt said he never considered switching to another profession, and that he’d like to thank the people who have supported the barbershop throughout the years.

“I’ve been very happy doing this,” he said. “I’ve never dreaded coming to work, that’s for sure.”

photo by: Lauren Fox

Bob Brandt cuts client Jim Walker’s hair on Sept. 29.


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