Feb. 23 2011 12:00 AM

Lou’s Barber Shop in Old Town to close after 74 years

Lou Tallarico is closing Lou's Barbershop in Old Town after the business' 74-year history. Andy Balaskovitz/City Pulse

Norman Rockwell prints on the wall. A 1950s black rotary dial telephone. Two 1955 Paidar chairs with ashtrays built into the armrests. Military memorabilia. No answering machine.

The inside of Lou’s Barber Shop, 521 E. Grand River Ave. in Old Town, hasn’t changed much in its 74-year history.

On Saturday, Lou’s owner Lou Tallarico will close the business his father started at the height of the Great Depression — a business that has remained in the same location since 1937.

“Barbershops like this are fading fast,” Tallarico said. “You’d be surprised how many people come in and say, ‘Oh, a barbershop.’”

Tallarico was 5 years old when his family moved from Ontonagon County in the Upper Peninsula to Lansing in 1935. Fiori Tallarico, Lou’s father, was an Italian immigrant who moved to the U.S. in 1902. He bought the building across the street from the Old Town Diner and the former Temple Club in the spring of 1936. The next year, he started a barbershop.

Lou Tallarico began cutting hair full time in 1949. At that time, the barbershop was in a prime location.

“It was a busy place down here,” Tallarico said of north Lansing in the 1950s. “At one time we had three chairs. My dad, brother-in-law and me. We were busy all day.”

Tallarico says the number of barbershops dropped significantly in the 1960s with the proliferation of shopping malls and men with long hair.

“The long hair was really biting into ya big time,” he said.

Tallarico joined the Lansing Township Fire Department as business slowed.

“When I wasn’t playing fireman, I was cutting hair for 25 years,” he said.

Tallarico’s decision to close the shop, which he had been kicking around for a few years, was reinforced after a shoulder injury in December. Tallarico’s doctor said it would permanently affect his ability to cut hair.

“I’m 80 years old. It’s time to retire,” he added.

Tallarico has been married for 57 years and raised six children. “The barbershop has been very good to me,” he said.

Tallarico is also friends with Alfredo “Fred” Perrelli, whom he met through church. Perrelli closed his downtown barbershop on Washington Square in November. Perrelli’s was known to service big-name politicians, such as former Gov. James Blanchard.

“I told Fred a few years ago that I was thinking about retiring,” Tallarico said. “He told me: ‘Come
down and work for me then.’”

On top of all the regular customers,
Tallarico said he has cut hair for state Supreme Court justices and
former Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus. When he was in active duty in Korea in
the 1950s, Tallarico said he trimmed up Army generals.

“I was the only barber in the outfit at the time,” he said.

It’s nearing 5 p.m. Wednesday when Sidney Pierce walks into Lou’s.

got time for one more?” he asks with a smile. Pierce takes a quick seat
and Ken Fry, one of Tallarico’s employees, starts cutting Pierce’s
hair. We were talking camping and how one of Tallarico’s favorite destinations in West Michigan is “getting worn out.”

“This is what you miss — this conversation,” Tallarico said. “Everyone that comes in has a story of some kind.”

Pierce isn’t a regular, but has “come in a few times over the years,” he said.

appears the building won’t be vacant for long after Lou’s closes down.
Tallarico’s son Mike said “an acceptable offer came by” for the
building, but didn’t go into details about the new owner.

On Saturday, an open house from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. will mark the closing of Lou’s. “Come get your last haircut,” Tallarico said.

So what will he miss most about the old barbershop?

“The people,” he said. “The good conversation.”