FIGHTING THE SALONS THE OLD-FASHIONED WAY - The Explorer: Import

FIGHTING THE SALONS THE OLD-FASHIONED WAY

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Posted: Wednesday, January 29, 2003 12:00 am | Updated: 7:47 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

The signature red-and-white striped pole affixed to the storefront of Alt Fashion Barber Shop, 3684 W. Orange Grove Road, Suite No. 162, beckons patrons with simplicity and familiarity.

The shop's walls are white and nearly bare, save an American flag, a clock emblazoned with the face of John Wayne keeping watch, an autographed Charlton Heston poster and a basket of candies individually wrapped in red, white and blue.

While a bass fishing show is muted on the television, a father and son team cut hair side-by-side. The father, Armando Cota, a master of the trade, making conversation with a patron while his son, Lalo, still honing his craft, recounts his recent military service to those listening in the room.

According to owner and barber Kurt Wirth, independently-owned, traditional barbershops with full-service hair cuts and shaves are fighting a losing battle with big chain hair salons.

"We are more than a 'Super Cuts' type of store," Wirth, 66, says while sweeping up hair a chair away from the father and son. "There is more to cutting hair than just cutting hair."

One mustache trim and straight-blade shave at a time, Alt Fashion is vying to keep the tradition alive.

Opened in October, Alt Fashion maintains a low profile among the other shops in the strip mall on Thornydale and Orange Grove roads.

Wirth employs only three other barbers, Armando and Lalo Cota, and Kay Penny. While the store sees a steady stream of varied customers, most know their barber's first name and the barbers reciprocate.

Penny, who is noticeably absent from the four-chair salon, has been recovering from cancer with ongoing chemotherapy. According to Wirth, she continues to work occasionally and some of her most dedicated patrons stop in two to three times a week for updates about her health and choose to wait for her return to give them a trim.

"These people are my family and I have been fortunate to have them," Wirth says.

Though the employees at Alt Fashion specialize in short-hair fashions like flattops and fades, the store caters to all types of cuts and styles.

Patrons also can choose from a variety of other services including beard and mustache trims, old fashioned shaves or even facials.

"Mud packs and other kinds of facials got their start in the barber shop," Wirth says. "Most haven't done that type of service in years, but it is an important part of the experience."

Though it has been open only fourth months, Alt Fashion has quickly attracted a devoted customer base.

Tony Vicencio, 23, followed Wirth from his previous salon in Oracle to Alt Fashion, having his hair trimmed about every 10 days by the skilled barber.

"There's no other place in town that can cut hair like Kurt does," Vicencio says. "There is something special here."

Born in Germany in 1937, Wirth came to the United States with his sister who married a U.S. Serviceman after World War II.

Though he had began studying engineering in Germany, opportunities to finish school in the United States were limited.

"An old friend gave me the best piece of advice I've ever had," Wirth says while he is trimming hair with an electric razor. "Learn a trade, he said, it is something that can never be taken away from you."

For more than 45 years, Wirth has been cutting hair and telling his story in a variety of traditional barbershops and salons in Indiana, Illinois and Arizona.

After owning his own unisex salon for 10 years, he retired moving from Wheaton, Ill. to SaddleBrooke in 1997. The retirement was short-lived though; Wirth says he spent most his time filling in for friends at salons and barbershops in and around the Northwest.

Alt Fashion is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, and 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. The shop does not take appointments.

Haircuts at the Alt Fashion are $13 and include a back rub with Wirth's handheld, antique electric massager. Children's cuts are $11.

For more information, call 797-6566.

© 2014 The Explorer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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