Henry “Heinie” Stapelmann has been going to the same barbershop for about 57 years. He should. He owns it.
That will all come to an end early next month when the 82-year-old barber reluctantly calls it quits.
“I’ll miss the people; geez, I’ll miss them so much,” he said, shaking his head a bit. “I’ve met so many wonderful people doing this. I hate to do it, but it’s time.”
Stapelmann, a native of Sauk City, didn’t see barbering on the horizon as a youth, nor after a two-year U.S. Army stint in Germany during the Korean War.
He’d done farming and pipe insulation work before a friend suggested he try barbering and sent him an application in the late 1950s for the barber school on First Avenue in Eau Claire, which is now an apartment complex.
“I thought, well, if I don’t like it, I’ll go back to pipe insulating,” Stapelmann said. “But I liked it and liked the people. That’s the part that really hits you when you think of giving this up — the people.”
Stapelmann barbered in Appleton and La Crosse before settling in Eau Claire, saying barber Charlie Dehler “stayed on about a year or so until I got my license and I took over.”
That was in 1960.
“Things were a lot different then,” Stapelmann said, noting that he charged $2 for a haircut and paid off what he owed on the building at 1615 Bellinger St. in about two years. He’s also had assistants at his shop over the years, including Jerry Valk of Arcadia, who recently celebrated his 50th year in barbering.
Haircuts are now $10 for children and $12 for adults. Stapelmann doesn’t take appointments and is open four days a week until he closes for good April 6.
“Sooner or later I had to get out of the business. I worked a lot longer in life than I thought I ever would,” Stapelmann said.
His parents died when he was young, and his sister, Zona, quit her job in Minneapolis to help raise him.
“I owe so much to my sister,” he said. “My only regret is that my parents both died before I could help them and make their lives better.”
Stapelmann now will have more time to spend with his wife, Jean.
“She kind of needs me at home, and that’s really why I’m giving it up,” he said. “There will be plenty for me to do there, I’m sure of that. I’ll always keep busy.”
Stapelmann said he feels blessed to call the majority of his clients his friends.
“He has been my barber as far back as I can remember; 40 to 50 years,” said Birney Dibble of Eau Claire. “He gives a good haircut, and he’s always been so friendly. We’ve just always had a very pleasant relationship, and he’s just an all-around good guy.”
The barbershop, which dates back to the 1930s, contains a wide assortment of eclectic items, including historical pictures from the 1920s. The two barber chairs, which have been re-covered several times, are more than 70 years old and came from the former Hotel Eau Claire.
“I have no idea why I started coming in here,” said Ray Schewe, 76, who routinely brings in goodies, makes coffee and witnesses plenty of cribbage games in the shop. “I guess I was looking for a barbershop and stopped in. That was about 40 years ago.
“He is just so friendly,” Schewe continued. “It amazes me to see all the guys who come in and they never say how they want it, he just knows all of their haircuts.”
Stapelmann admits he was a bit shocked late last year when he received a note from Antoinette Gaier, 58, who recalled a haircut at the shop when she was 10.
“I thought of that day and your kind words many times over the years,” she wrote in the note.
“I don’t remember a lot about all that,” Stapelmann said while rereading the handwritten message. “It means a lot; things like that mean a lot.”
Stapelmann said he’s tried to treat everyone the same, even though “every haircut is different. This has been a good life for me. If you like to meet people, this is the job to have.”
Stapelmann is also thankful that his shop will be taken over by Jessica Bertoni, who has 17 years of barbering experience and currently works for Roy’s Barber Shop in Eau Claire. He said he will stay on “for a bit” to help her get connected with his clientele.
“I’m excited to have my own place,” Bertoni said, adding that the new business will be called Jessie J’s Barbershop. “It’s time for me to do this.”
Stapelmann, as he glanced around at the Green Bay Packers memorabilia, newspaper clippings and other items on the walls and shelves, lowered and shook his head.
“If I really think back and go through all the people who have come in here and think of all the memories here, it’s all just overwhelming,” he said. “They came in here for a haircut and got camaraderie for free. I just couldn’t be more thankful.”
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