DALLAS — Heidi Kessel, the long-time owner of Heidi’s Barbershop on Main Street in Dallas, didn’t go to work for the money, but for her friends.
She calls her customers, old and new, friends, and last week she had to say goodbye to many of them. She retired on Friday after a career that stretched back to 1987.
“It’s very bittersweet. I’m 90 percent excited, but I am sad. I have been crying,” she said. “I won’t miss my job at all. I’ll miss my friends.”
Kessel, 49, was born with a heart condition. She said going to work has become too much of a burden on her body to keep the shop open.
“I’ve worked and I’ve lived my life with this heart condition, and I now have congestive heart failure as a result,” Kessel said.
She’s offered haircuts at the 936 Main St. location since 1997. Before that, she worked at Dallas Barbershop on Court Street. She attended the beauty school at used to be in downtown Dallas beginning in 1987.
Kessel said her business and the customers who she’s served for years have been a blessing to her.
“I came to know the Lord as my savior here,” she said. “I have made some good, lifelong friends here.”
She met her husband 22 years ago in the shop.
“It’s been my whole life,” she said.
Conrad Douma, a longtime customer, said Kessel goes well beyond the call of a barber for her customers.
Kessel charged $11 for a haircut and spends 30 minutes on each when she could have easily schedule three clients in an hour.
He said she went to customers’ homes and to nursing homes to make sure they got their haircuts.
He said Kessel closed the shop to stay at with him and his wife when he was rushed to the hospital a few years ago.
Kessel and Douma’s wife have become good friends. They have lunch together regularly and his wife happened to be at the barbershop when Douma called her. She didn’t answer, so he did the next best thing and called Kessel.
They saw that they both had calls from him.
“We thought, ‘Oh, he’s in trouble,” Kessel said. “This guy here was dying from an aortic aneurysm.”
They rushed to his house. Conrad was on couch, so they called 911. He doesn’t remember anything before waking up in a helicopter on his way Oregon Health Science University.
“I stayed at the hospital and prayed every day. When he finally came out of the drugs and he survived, he said ‘That’s the first time I spend three whole nights with two women,’” Kessel said, laughing. “He was so out of it. We just prayed.”
Kessel said she’s struggled with her disease so she can meet the needs of her clients.
“With the heart condition that I have, I have problems every day,” she said. “I get up and I don’t feel good, but I have to come.”
She even called her clients from the hospital to tell them she won’t be in that day.
“I’m very, very dedicated,” she said. “That is the hardest part of quitting.”
Douma said before she took appointments, Heidi’s Barbershop was the place to hear the latest rumors about town.
“If you wanted to know what is going on in town, we would all just sit in a row in here waiting for your turn to get your hair cut,” he said. “We would get all the news in Dallas, Oregon.”
He said some clients were so loyal, they were willing to be late back to work too, including one customer who works in the court rooms at Polk County Courthouse.
Douma said he asked that customer one afternoon: “Doesn’t court start at 1 p.m.?”
He said the response to that was: “They will wait for me.”
Kessel said giving last haircuts has been difficult. A 15-year-old customer who was in her chair for his first haircut brought her a dozen roses at his last haircut last week.
“How do you say goodbye to someone you might never see again?” she said.
Kessel said it was her customers who made her think about retiring.
“They always tell me ‘You come first. We’re going to miss you, but we want you to do what it best for you,” she said. “They’ve offered to take me to the hospital. They send flowers.”
Kessel said she wasn’t going to predict how she would feel after locking up for a final time, but there is something she is looking forward to.
“I want to enjoy not having commitments to do anything,” she said. “I live out of town. I have property. I’m excited to sit on my patio and spend time with my dog.”