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Pandemic prompts longtime barber to hang up clippers

Musselman retires after over 50 years in business

Retired Hollidaysburg barber Dave Musselman pulls his clippers out at his home. Despite retiring as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Musselman said he still cuts relatives’ hair on occasion. Mirror photo by Ike Fredregill

Hollidaysburg barber Dave Musselman rebuilt his business from the ashes of the 2014 Allegheny Street fire, but in the wake of the pandemic, he decided it was time to retire.

Fifty years ago, Musselman opened a “one-chair” barber shop on the 100 block of Allegheny Street, where he cut, trimmed and shaved Hollidaysburg residents’ hair for 43 years until it burned down in the multiple structure fire of 2014. Despite having reached retirement age, Musselman wasn’t ready to quit after the blaze.

Within a month, he reopened in a Frankstown Township strip mall on Route 22 between Nic’s Grab’n Go and Aquatic Imitations bait shop and began rebuilding his clientele.

“It was slow at first,” Musselman, 74, recalled, sitting with his wife, Shirley, in their Hollidaysburg home. “But after about two — Shirley, was it two years? Yeah, after two years, I was pretty much back to normal.”

Business was strong until the state ordered most small shops to temporarily close in the early months of the pandemic.

While tools such as aprons, scissors and a good chair are staples of the barbering industry, retired Hollidaysburg barber Dave Musselman said conversation with the clients is key. Mirror photo by Ike Fredregill

“Not working was a lot of a stress,” he said. “I probably would’ve had to call it then and there if it weren’t for the government’s self-employed unemployment (insurance).”

While the funds helped, Musselman still had to pay operational costs: rent, electricity and insurance.

“When we reopened around June, it was like starting all over,” he said. “And there were new expenses to deal with.”

The barber invested in pandemic safety measures, such as face shields, sanitizing equipment and face masks for customers.

While some businesses could apply for grants to help with the pandemic costs, Musselman said his lack of employees meant he was ineligible for many funding initiatives.

Regardless of the hurdles, he kept the shop afloat, rebuilding his clientele once again and taking measures to ensure his customers felt safe getting their hair cut throughout the tumult caused by COVID-19.

In December, Musselman’s health took a turn for the worse, and he again closed his doors with hopes of reopening soon. Those medical issues were compounded when both he and his wife contracted COVID-19 in January.

“It was the end of January before he was even fit enough to go back to work,” Shirley said.

Musselman added, “I just decided, we’re hanging it up. With the restrictions from the state, it was just too much.”

‘A clean job’

Born in Canoe Creek, Musselman graduated in 1966 from Hollidaysburg High School, where he met Shirley.

“We’re high school sweethearts,” Musselman said. “And all these years later, we still do everything together.”

Musselman’s father worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad, but the job was unreliable, and his dad spent a significant portion of time laid off.

“I wanted job security,” Musselman said. “I saw barbering had pretty good job security, and it was a clean job.”

Musselman’s dad wanted him to enter the white-collar work world, and had a fit when he learned Musselman was going to attend barber school in Johnstown. But Musselman’s mother and uncle supported the move, and Musselman’s was mind set with or without his father’s approval.

Shirley was also supportive of the career choice, and once drove with Musselman through a blizzard to Harrisburg, so he could take his state barbering test.

“I was there from day one,” said Shirley, adding with a chuckle, “I didn’t care what he did, so long as he was working.”

In 1968, Musselman graduated from Cambria Barber School and began a 15-month long apprenticeship in Juniata, before opening his own shop in Hollidaysburg.

“I fell right into what I wanted to do, because I enjoyed being around people,” Musselman said. “You have to B.S. to be a barber, and I enjoyed the chitchat.”

Hollidaysburg resident Anthony Battisti said when he was a kid, his mother took him to Musselman’s former shop on Allegheny Street.

“Just going in there was like an old-school scene from a movie,” Battisti recalled. “It was a bunch of old-timers sitting around talking about nothing, really.”

Battisti and his brother would request “weird” haircuts, which he said Musselman was always willing to try.

“When I was old enough to start shaving, I went in there,” Battisti said. “He gave me the old-school razor shave. I don’t remember his stories, but I remember it was always a good conversation while you were sitting in the chair.”

Musselman said conversation with customers was key, but knowing when a customer didn’t want to talk was equally important.

“A lot of things in barbering changed over the years — mostly the styles,” Musselman said. “But I never did the styling, because I wasn’t trained. I didn’t want to be anything fancy. I just wanted to be an old-time barber.”

‘Salt of the earth’

Hollidaysburg Mayor Joseph Dodson said he wasn’t a regular at Musselman’s shop, but the Musselmans have always been a staple of the community.

“It’s hard to find a nicer couple than Dave and Shirley,” Dodson said. “They have been very active in the community, and they are absolutely the salt of the earth. I wish him well in his retirement; he’s earned it.”

Hollidaysburg Borough Police Chief Rodney Estep said Musselman has cut his hair since he was a kid.

“He is more than just a barber,” Estep said. “He volunteered on our auxiliary police force for 20 years, helping out with things like policing sporting functions and traffic control.”

Estep was on scene when Musselman’s Allegheny Street shop burned down.

“He lost everything,” Estep said. “I didn’t want him to move to Frankstown Township, but I’m glad he was able to reopen somewhere. We’re really going to miss him.”

An avid hunter, Musselman said of all the items lost in the fire, his hunting trophies left the deepest impact.

Cleanup crews were able to salvage one item, a black bear pelt, which Musselman said he harvested while hunting with his brother in 2002.

“All that was left was the head, but I had it remounted,” Musselman said proudly, pointing to the trophy that now adorns his living room.

A light breeze danced through half a dozen wind chimes on the Musselmans’ porch as he and his wife flipped through an old photo album at their dining room table.

“I enjoy having him home,” Shirley said.

With three children, eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, the couple said they have plenty to keep them busy throughout their golden years.

“Retirement is taking some time to get used to — it hasn’t really hit me yet,” Musselman said. “I miss (the job) a little bit. Mostly the people and conversations.”

Mirror Staff Writer Ike Fredregill is at 814s-946-7458.

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