A hair short of retiring


The Mirror

It all started with the duck’s tail, a 1950s haircut with the hair slicked back and parted in the center.

It was meant to resemble, of course, a duck’s tail.

“When I came out of barber school, if you couldn’t cut a flat top or a duck’s tail, you couldn’t get a job,” said 76-year-old Mer Willis, owner and barber at Mer’s Place barbershop in Federal Way.

Then there was the flat top, the businessman, the perms, the buzzcuts, the comb-overs, the mohawks and lightening bolts shaved into the sides of heads.

Willis has seen it all.

And after 50 years of haircuts and conversation, he’s retiring. His last day will be in late July or early August.

More than 150 of his regular clients will find a new barber. But they will never replace Willis, who has served as a friend, adviser and confidant to people ranging from recovering drug addicts to local politicians and undercover detectives.

“We don’t gossip the same way women do,” Willis said about the men that come into his shop. “We’re more apt to talk about situations rather than people.”

Regardless of the topic, Willis keeps a strict code of confidentiality.

“I make sure I never say anything about them,” Willis said. “You can’t go blabbing because then you lose their trust. And they need to get it off their chest.”

It isn’t just the trust of his clients Willis has earned. He makes sure their wives are happy as well.

“At one time I had a business card that said ‘The way you or your wife wants your hair cut,’” Willis said, laughing.

When a longtime customer wants a drastic change in his hairstyle, Willis won’t cut it without a note from the customer’s wife.

“At one time I had three notes from their wives here on the bulletin board,” he said.

After this summer, Willis looks forward to retiring and spending more time with his own wife, Hope.

The couple purchased 10 acres of property outside of Ellensburg, where Willis’s son, Scott, and his family live.

There’s a gleam in Willis’s eye when he talks about how much fun he will have spoiling his grandchildren.

Both of the boys, ages 9 and 12, are eager for his arrival, Willis said. Especially when they found out he had purchased 10 acres of property. They want him to build them a motorcycle racetrack.

And will he?

“Well certainly,” he said with a chuckle.

Contact writer by e-mailing or calling (253) 925-5565.

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