Tom Groh, of Tom’s Barber Shop, is calling it quits after 49 years, but not without saying goodbye to his many loyal customers.
Groh, 68, entered the barber trade in Spokane Valley in 1965 as a teen, the youngest of 11 children raised on a family farm northwest of Odessa, Washington.
In the years since, he built a life for himself and his family a snip at a time.
Late last month, Groh put down his scissors for good.
He said he and his wife, Diane, are going to spend more time with their grandkids.
Retirement comes after serious health problems and, most recently, a lawn-mowing accident that laid him up at home temporarily.
Groh, who has hundreds of customers, many of whom he calls friends, didn’t want to talk about his career so much as he wanted to send out a message.
“I want to say ‘thank you’ to my customers and let them know I am thinking of them,” Groh said.
Groh’s iconic barber shop in an older home at 101 N. Bowdish Road has been an institution in Spokane Valley since Groh moved to that location in 1979.
He worked beside three other barbers, all trained in the old-school style of haircutting. He said he has been cutting hair for fathers and their sons for up to four generations. Many of his customers have become close friends.
Groh has turned the business over to his nephew, Irv Groh, who has worked at the shop 41 years himself.
John Ruscio, a retired Spokane Valley railroader and school bus driver, said of Tom Groh, “He’s been cutting my hair longer than I’ve been married, and I’ve been married for 46 years.” Groh also cut hair for Ruscio’s three sons.
“He told me, all he ever wanted to do was cut hair.”
But there was also plenty of time for fun and socializing. There’s a story of the time one of the shop barbers was crazy about his powerful old Ford wagon. As a joke, Groh and others jacked up the rear end, placing it on wooden blocks so the rear wheels would spin in the air. At quitting time, the owner fired up the wagon; the others drove off laughing.
Will Wolf, a longtime livestock broker in the Spokane area, said the shop has always been a place to make friends.
Tom Groh has been at the center of a never-ending series of social events, Wolf said: golf tournaments, fishing trips, parties, restaurant get-togethers, poker games and more.
Groh donated space in his building to the Spokane Valley Baseball organization for youth for years, Wolf said. He let customers use his storage space at the rear free of charge.
When people were laid up in the hospital, Groh would visit them and cut their hair.
Groh didn’t leave his rural roots completely. According to Wolf, “A lot of guys drove 30, 40, 50 miles to get their hair cut at Tom’s Barber Shop.
“It’s been a tremendous local business.”
After Groh graduated from Odessa High School, he moved from home in 1965 to attend Moler’s Barber School in Spokane and went to work in a barber shop near his present location in 1966.
Five years later, he started his own shop, and six years after that, he bought the house the business occupies.
He and his wife raised two children. His son, Ty Groh, is a retired fighter pilot and counterterrorism expert who is now an associate professor at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona. His daughter, Tamra Groh, of Seattle, is a successful architect and construction manager.
Groh doesn’t like to talk about it, but he went through two liver transplants not too many years ago and has since regained his health. Late last month, he was injured in an accident while mowing his yard, suffering fractures in his right elbow and shoulder.
Groh said that as much as anything, he and the other barbers at his shop have striven to send customers out the door satisfied.
“We always like to make sure they are perfect before they leave,” he said.
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