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Cuts, counsel, community

Longtime Ishpeming barber marks 60 years in business

Barber Dave Portale of Ishpeming stands next to his wall Regulator clock that has been with him since before the business began. (Journal photo by Katie Segula)

MARQUETTE — Historic things happened in April 1961. The governor of New York, Nelson D. Rockefeller, authorized the building of the World Trade Center, the Bay of Pigs operation took place and in the small town of Ishpeming, David Portale got his first official barber job at Pete’s Barber shop where he started his extensive career.

David Portale was 16 years old when his father brought home an antique barber chair and put it in the basement. His dad volunteered him to cut his hair and soon his uncles were coming over for a free trim.

Portale graduated high school and 10 days later, joined the U.S. Marine Corps.

“When I went into the Marine Corps at 17, the buddies hated their hair cuts and I told them to pitch in and get me some clippers and I would cut their hair on Sunday mornings,” he recalled. Before long, officers began showing up for cuts, too. They paid a $1 per cut.

When David came home from the military, he decided to go to barber school in Detroit for 9 months, to get a job until a better one came along. He hitchhiked with a friend to visit his hometown regularly.

Dave is seen in 1969, when the shop was new, leaning on his barber chair that sits in the same location today in the shop. (Journal photo by Katie Segula)

“After barber school, I got a job right away in 1961 at Pete Nurmela’s. You couldn’t hardly pay for a job back then. But in ’63, I married my wife, Irene Portale, who was my neighbor growing up. She was all grown up when I cam

e back from the military.”

Eight years after his career began at Pete’s Barber shop, Dave’s father took him to a building at 200 S. Pine St., a building that had already held many businesses in Ishpeming.

“My dad told me it was time to start my own business and he was right,” said Portale. “So I opened this barber shop on July 22, 1969, the day after Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon.”

Today, Dave’s Barber shop has a simple and peaceful atmosphere, with a largewall Regulator clock, methodically ticking, back and forth. It also houses one large mirror, two luxurious, classic leather barber chairs and two smiling barbers: David Portale Sr. and his son, David Portale Jr.

This shop is open for haircuts without appointments, meaning customers can just walk in and enjoy the social atmosphere. Portale and his son welcome people to come enjoy a haircut, a story and a unique experience.

Dave’s Barber Shop is a time capsule in downtown Ishpeming and example of a business that has survived many phases of history. The shop is still alive with a small-town community feeling that some have only briefly enjoyed in their lives and others have only had the chance to see secondhand, as Portale makes sure to interact with customers and community.

“My customers are walking encyclopedias, just have to know what to ask them. I appreciate them being so willing to share and (being) so full of knowledge, an electrician will tell you how to wire that up correctly or a carpenter how to fix something,” he said, smiling.

Portale is leaving his shop to his son one day, but after 60 years of service, he still isn’t ready for retirement.

“Customers always ask me if I am going to retire and I always say, ‘Why? Am I doing something wrong?’ I’ve never ever thought about (if) I am going to retire, it’s just not in my psyche,” he said. “Remaining relevant is important for a person. They don’t know how important it is until they get away from things. If you’re not important to somebody, I don’t think they’re going to be very healthy.”

Katie Segula can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is ksegula@miningjournal.net.

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