Everyone knows him as Nick Nickerson, and he was born in Spokane in 1929. That makes him 81 years old, and for 61 of those years he’s been a barber. At the end of this year, Nickerson is putting away his scissors for the last time when he retires from his job at Heads Up Barber Shop in north Spokane.
“I never really wanted to do anything other than cut hair,” said Nickerson.
A trim man with an engaging smile and a knack for telling a story, Nickerson is not really sure what he’s going to do after he retires.
“I’m going to have all this time, I don’t know,” said Nickerson, trailing off a bit.
His wife of 41 years, Kathy Nickerson, sometimes helps him remember things and finish his sentences, because Alzheimer’s has made it a bit difficult for Nickerson to concentrate.
“It’s just hard for me to remember things sometimes,” he said, shaking his head, pointing to his forehead. “I have some thinking problems sometimes.”
Nickerson grew up in Aberdeen, Wash., and when he was 17 his mom signed his military papers so he could enlist. After spending three years as a Morse code operator in the South Pacific, he came back home and enrolled in barber school in Tacoma.
“That’s what I used the GI Bill for, to go to barber school,” said Nickerson.
After barber school there was a lot of moving around: Nickerson was in Missoula for a while and in Polson, Mont., before he made his way back to Spokane.
“We tried remembering when that was last night, but we’re not sure,” said Kathy Nickerson. “It was sometime in the mid-sixties.” The two married in 1969.
Nickerson worked at a barbershop at the Shadle Center before he started his own shop on Northwest Boulevard where the Downriver Grill is now.
“I must have been there for some 20 years,” said Nickerson. “It’s thousands of haircuts when you think about it, but cutting hair was always the easy part.” Over the years he has listened to a lot of stories while cutting hair, and it’s easy to understand why: Nickerson has a great sense of humor and he’s often smiling.
“I’ve worked on generations, you know, on fathers and sons, and on grandfathers that bring in their grandsons,” said Nickerson, smiling. “I’ve always really enjoyed it, but I get tired.” At 81, it’s OK to slow down a little.
He’s been at Heads Up Barber Shop for a little more than four years.
Nickerson said he doesn’t have one particular hobby, but he likes to read books, especially about military and “theater stuff.”
Nickerson’s son is Spokane actor and director Troy Nickerson, and he has always enjoyed helping out with various productions.
“I’d do anything behind the scenes, and I’d help out front selling tickets,” said Nickerson.
His wife adds that at one point he did play in the American Poolplayers Association, and he’s collected barbershop memorabilia over the years.
“We are looking at maybe some volunteer work at the VA hospital,” said Kathy Nickerson.
Nickerson is not a large man and appears in good shape. He’s been healthy most of his life, he said, except he had bypass surgery five times.
“Yes, five, and they thought they had to do another one,” he said, laughing. “But that was it, five was enough.”
When asked what he attributes his good spirits to, the answer comes promptly:
“I have two cats. Cats are good for you,” Nickerson said.
He hopes to find a volunteer position somewhere – anywhere where there are people.
“I guess I just love being around other people,” Nickerson said, pausing a bit. “And I can still cut hair. I can do that any time I want to, which really is all the time.”