At the House of David barbershop at 1975 S.W. First Ave, the employees are on a first-name basis with the customers. It’s a good thing, too, because they have had since 1967 to learn them. To the two father/son teams that front the shop, a good haircut is as much a thing of pride as the reputation, "Portland’s best kept secret," according to some of the customers who in the past have been known to include some local celebrities: newscasters, Blazers and Blazer coaches – use your imagination.
Owner Don Hoagland says that they have never advertised, either. "We have always relied on word of mouth. In the beginning, my friend and I would go to events around town and drop off cards," he said.
Thirty-six years later and still in the same location, Hoagland is pleased with the business: "The man who just left has been coming in for 25 years," he said, motioning toward the door. "Some have been coming in since we opened. We’ve always been lucky in getting real pleasant customers."
Yet still no advertising, surprising for a man who started out selling soft drinks. It is hard to imagine Hoagland, soft spoken and friendly, as a salesman.
"Back in ’67," he says, "this was a new development, and a friend of mine convinced me to pursue this. I didn’t even start cutting hair until I was 30, but we’ve always been busy and progressive."
He admits to being happy in this decision, opting not to look back. It seems a good fit for him, as he has always been creatively minded.
"I think if you’re going to be good, you have to be creative. I’m sure there are people out there more creative than me. When I was a kid, I wanted to be an artist," he says.
Cutting hair was not so automatic for Hoagland’s son, Rick, who floundered a bit in his 20s before finally settling in at the shop.
These days, Hoagland sticks to keeping up on the ever-changing hair fads and his hobby: cars. He confesses to attending the roadster shows around town, though he is not exactly a novice, boasting two ’57 Chevrolets, one convertible, one hardtop, and two ’36 Fords, a roadster and a hardtop.
The other father and son team, Butch Taylor and son Jerry Taylor, enjoy fishing and Hoagland regards them as "fun to be around; they cut good hair and are full of B.S., though they seem to like to work." A sly grin creeps over Hoagland’s face. "It’s a good thing we don’t cut women’s hair much. We try to keep things tame when they come in. We are always joking about how we’re wading around in B.S."
When asked if he hears many good jokes, he replied with an even bigger smile, "Sometimes I tell them to the customers. They are usually bad, and I have to tell them, ‘I don’t make these up, I get them from you.’ "
B.S. or not, it all comes down to business, and though much has changed in 36 years (Hoagland talks about razor cuts, business cuts and hippies coming in for a trim), they have a reputation to uphold.
"We have been lucky in hiring really good cutters. Some were here for 10 or 12 years before they moved on. We’re just going to keep it going around here and hire younger cutters to back our reputation," Hoagland said.
He is careful to distinguish the employees at the House of David as "stylists" rather than just "cutters." The difference is "difficult to explain" for him, although, with a 36-year run and counting, his customers could probably clue him in.