A unique horse-chair has been part of the Palace Barber Shop's intrigue and customer service since 1929, and kids still love to sit in it when they get their hair cut.
The Palace Barber Shop at 117 East 3rd Street in Pratt traces its history to 1901 and for 90 of those 118 years, the business has been home to a special pony ride chair for kids.
“As far as I know, this horse chair is the only one around,” said Blake Bolen who has been cutting hair at Palace Barber Shop for 18 years and took ownership when Ken Meyers retired in 2009. Marion Fiegel was also associated with the business until he retired about a dozen years ago.
“Lots of moms like to bring their kids in to ride Brownie (the chair horse) for their first official hair cut to celebrate their one-year birthday,” Bolen said. “They like to have a lock of hair for their baby books.”
Bolen said the youngest occupant of the pony chair he could remember was a four-month-old baby girl with a full head of black hair.
“Her mom and dad held her up on Brownie while I gave her her first haircut,” Bolen said.
“When they turn five, most kids want to sit in the big chair,” Bolen said.
Friday afternoon it was Maliki Newell, son of Lucas and Jennifer Newell, who took Brownie’s reins. Maliki and Brownie have become pals over the three years he has climbed into the saddle, according to Maliki’s dad.
Bolen said he wishes he had started taking pictures of the kids who rode Brownie so they could be displayed, along with the shelves full of sports memorabilia that he’s collected over the years.
If he had photos, there would likely be enough pictures to paper the barbershop’s walls as Bolen estimated Brownie has had 32,500 riders over the years, though many of them were repeat riders.
It was only a few years ago that Bolen learned more about the history of the business that was founded by the late J.S. Elting who expanded his Palace Billiard and Pool Hall, which was located across Main Street from the Barron Theatre, to include Palace Barber Shop.
“The saddle seat from Brownie’s chair lifts off and someone had hand-written on it that the chair was purchased new in 1929, so I thought that was when the shop was opened,” Bolen said.
It wasn’t until People’s Bank Trust Administrator Phil Toalston came across paperwork that provided documentation showing the barber shop was in business as of July 20, 1901 that Bolen learned more of the history of the shop.
“That was really a surprise,” said 40-year-old Bolen who has been barbering in Pratt for nearly half of his life.
Though he started out with plans on a teaching/coaching career when he enrolled in the teacher education program at Barton Community College following graduation from Pratt High School in 1998, Bolen said he learned about the barbering business mid-way through his college program and decided to change career paths, with his family’s blessings.
“I’ve never looked back,” Bolen said. “This business is about customer service and that’s what I’m about.”
Doing the math, Bolen has somewhere around 115,000 haircuts under his belt and he said he’s planning to double that before he lays down his barbering shears.
“I don’t see Brownie going anywhere anytime soon, either,” Bolen said. “To my knowledge he’s the only one of his kind around, maybe even in the state.”
Blake said the barber-chair horse seat he calls Brownie was purchased from Emil J. Paidar Company of Chicago, IL, one of the big barber shop supply companies in the 1920s.