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Getting Clipped in Portland . . . and Liking It
By Tom Adkinson

PORTLAND, Ore. – Portland calls itself “The City of Makers,” but Jerry Ripley is a taker. He’ll take that shaggy head of hair you are sporting and shape it up just the way you want it.

Ripley is an old-fashioned barber in an old-fashioned barbershop, even if it does have the fancy name of the Tonsorial Parlor. There’s a spiraling red, white and blue barber pole out front and one painted on the window facing SW 3rd in the heart of downtown, too.

barber at work
Jerry Ripley clips yet another client, just as he has been doing in down Portland for 43 years - image by Jennifer Johnson

barber at play
Absent hair to cut or shoes to shine, Jerry Ripley and Jennifer Johnson enjoy some spirited backgammon games -- Image by Tom Adkinson
  barber poles
The Tonsorial Parlor sounds a lot fancier than it is. Barber poles painted in the window verify that -- Image by Tom Adkinson

Ripley is a veritable human institution in Portland, which is fitting since his shop is adjacent to a brick-and-mortar Portland institution, the city’s oldest restaurant, Huber’s.

hubers restaurant
Huber’s, Portland’s oldest restaurant, occupies space in an historic downtown building with the Tonsorial Parlor -- Image by Tom Adkinson

His scissors have been clicking for 43 years, 40 of them at this spot next to Huber’s. Both businesses are carved into the Oregon Pioneer Building, built in 1910 as Portland’s first concrete structure. Ripley, 70, found his calling after service in Vietnam in the 101st Airborne Division. He went to Moler Barber College in Portland on the G.I. Bill.

His clients through the decades have included governors, senators, lots of businessmen and, as he put it, “some hotshot attorneys.”

“I have one client who bicycles in from Salem, which is 70 miles away,” Ripley said, appreciative of the loyalty, uncertain of the logic but cognizant of the local motto of “Keep Portland Weird.”

Tourists sometimes amble in, which was how I met Ripley on the way to dine at Huber’s and enjoy one of its famous Spanish coffees. Ripley and Jennifer Johnson, who runs Ambassador Shine inside the Tonsorial Parlor, were playing backgammon on a slow afternoon when I asked for a quick trim.

Conversation flowed quickly. I talked about a bicycle food tour I was planning with a bike shop just down the street, and Ripley recounted a story about seeing the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium one weekend when he was on leave from nearby Fort Campbell.

It was typical, casual barbershop talk with a couple of bad jokes tossed in. (A grasshopper walks into a bar. The bartender says, “Hey, I have a drink named for you.” The grasshopper says, “You have a drink named Bob?”) It’s probably been that way since he started out charging $6 for a haircut that costs $25 today.

More tourists are likely to make friends with Ripley and Johnson now that the majority of their historic building has been redeveloped into the 120-room Hi-Lo Hotel in Marriott’s Autograph Collection.

All the hotel staff has to say when a guest asks where to get a quick haircut is, “Just go around the corner and meet Jerry. You’ll like him.”

Published October 4, 2018

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