We’re making our way through a massive collection of Rocky Mountain News photos that are now in the Denver Public Library’s archives. We polled our readers about which letter “B” subject file we should explore, and you voted for “Barber Shops!”
If you want to get in on the next round of voting, sign up for our newsletter!
This one turned out to be tricky. Most of the hair artists featured in the archive were photographed in the ‘70s and ’80s, which made them hard to track down. Thankfully, the Rocky’s Cyrus McCrimmon took the photo above of Stanley Stewart at his old Dahlia Street business, Stanley’s Hare Shop, in 1992. His daughter, Samantha, kindly introduced us.
Stewart told us he’s been cutting hair in Park Hill for 50 years.
We met Stewart as he tightened up Art Wilson’s hairline. He now works out of M&M Hair Haven, on Kearney Street at 22nd Avenue.
Wilson has been a regular in Stewart’s chair for a majority of the barber’s career. It took them a minute to figure out how long.
“Oh, gee wiz, since 1980,” Wilson said, thinking back.
“Is that 42 years?” Stewart laughed.
“Yeah!” his friend replied, trying not to move his head too much.
In his 20s, Stewart attended the Colorado Barber College downtown, which gave him skills that would keep him employed for decades.
“It used to be skid row down there,” he said of the place where he was educated. “Now it’s called LoDo.”
A lot of Denver has changed since he got started.
Stewart moved to Denver from Plaquemine, Louisiana, in 1963. He arrived as Park Hill became a hub for Black Denverites, and as “white flight” cemented a demographic flip in the neighborhood. That trend began to flip back over the years, as people from around the nation moved into the city and rising home values made it hard for some longterm residents to stay.
“All the businesses were leaving and I was the only business over there,” he said. “But I never felt threatened or anything.”
While recent histories of Park Hill view the neighborhood through a lens of gang violence and policing, Stewart remembers it fondly.
“I raised three kids over here. They’d walk across the street to school,” he said. “I had no problem.”
Stewart told us he has no idea why a photojournalist came to his shop for the photo we found.
“Absolutely not,” he said, “because the Rocky Mountain News came by quite frequently. Because Chauncey Billups was one of my clients, and he was a hot commodity.”
Billups, who grew up in Park Hill, was an NBA star and coach. Stewart said he also worked on the heads of former NFL players, too.
His Hare Shop survived in “the Dahlia” until 2005. When he finally shut it down, he rented a chair from a barber friend who’d moved out of Holly Square a few blocks east and opened a new business on Kearney.
And it wasn’t high home prices or demographic shifts that caused Stewart to eventually move his residence out of the neighborhood. It was love.
About four years ago, Stewart married his second wife, who lived in Aurora and invited him to explore the metro area’s southern reaches. He still drives north to cut hair, by appointment only.
But change doesn’t bother him much. Stewart’s life is about service and friendships, and he’s still got plenty of both.
Moving out of the Dahlia was not a big deal.
“I left in ’05 and never looked back,” he said, laughing. “I’m not attached to stuff. I’m attached to relationships.”
His job brought him close to a lot of people, like Wilson, with whom he’s developed deep connections over the years.
“He had to be a good barber, number one,” Wilson said as Stewart trimmed, “then the friendship developed, the relationship took over.”
The friendship has transcended small talk. Stewart and Wilson have come to rely on one another.
“He’s been a blessing to me,” Stewart told us. “He encouraged me when I lost my first wife. This is what saved my life, having an outlet to come to when I was by myself.”
Wilson had experience as a widower. The years they’d grown to know each other established a foundation of trust that allowed Stewart to lean on him in a dark time. Wilson said he’s leaned on his barber, too. Stewart said he’s been able to pay that kind of support forward.
“Some of my customers have lost their spouses,” Stewart said. “I can be of encouragement to them, like he was for me.”
Stewart’s mirror, surrounded by glamour bulbs, has a sign taped in one corner that reads: “I am your servant.” Yes, he said, cutting hair is an act of service.
“I’m a Christian. And as a Christian, we are servants to our fellow man,” he said. “What did Jesus do? He was a carpenter. He used his hands, right?”