Onion peel

Originally published in the Springfield News-Leader August 12, 2001

The onion peel is gone. Long live the onion peel.

Lyman Nance, ensconced for 35 years at the Brentwood Barber Shop, retired at the end of July. He cut hair there through flattops through the long-hair days of the Ozarks ‘70s.

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To the best of my knowledge, my father never had his hair cut by anyone else besides Nance throughout his 22-year residence in Springfield. My dad was a devotee of the flattop, which he called the onion peel, a style he can be seen sporting deep into the ‘70s in home videos and photos. (“Stay in fashion, stay broke,” was among Dad’s favorite bromides.)

“The flattop was in style when he went to school; he liked giving flattops,. But when the long hair came in, that was a different story.”

Nance cut my hair, too. The day before school pictures, my mother would haul me up to Nance’s shop without fail. I lapsed from Nance’s tonsorial care for a few years following puberty, but I realized the error of my ways and came back into the fold.

My own experience with Nance is important only to the extent it mirrors the arc of his business as a whole.

“The flattop was in style when he went to school; he like giving flattops,” wrote Pauline Nance, Lyman’s wife, in a tribute she submitted to the paper. “But when the long hair came in, that was a different story.”

Men started going to stylists. Barbers lost business. Undeterred, Nance the businessman added to the skills of Nance the barber.

“Lyman went back to school again on weekends to get training for long hair,” Pauline Nance wrote.

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It wasn’t the first time Nance had gone to school to adapt to changing circumstances. Out of high school, Nance worked for Boeing. He was drafted into military service in the U.S. Army and served 2 years in Korea. After his discharge, Nance went back to Boeing until he was laid off. In response, he went to the Kansas School of Barbering in Wichita. He came back to Springfield to be closer to where he grew up. After a stint at another shop, he bought the Brentwood Barber Shop when it came up for sale.

More than attention to changing styles, however, accounted for his large clientele and devoted customers. Customer service is nowhere more important than when your business involves touching people’s heads.

And no one, not even the youngest whippersnapper, was beneath Nance’s special care. When I went back to having my hair cut by Nance as an adult, my sideburns were evened up with a straight razor. And the haircut was concluded with a neck rub administered with the vibrating massager strapped to the back of Nance’s hand.

Customer service is not a thing of the past, even with Nance’s retirement. It’s just useful to be reminded of its importance. And flexibility to change in the marketplace was not invented by computer makers. All business is built on customer loyalty first and foremost. The career of Lyman Nance is testament to the value of those tenets.

“As far as retirement, it will be an adjustment for me,” Nance said. “I plan to do some traveling, hunting and fishing and have a better garden.”

It’s a sure bet the garden will be neatly trimmed.

Postscript: Mr. Nance died in 2015. His obituary can be seen here.