After more than 50 years of business spanning two generations of his family, Larry Skarset, 72, has closed the doors of his Cambridge Barber Shop at 382 Cambridge Ave. in Palo Alto ahead of a redevelopment project planned for the site.
Skarset started barbering in 1967, joining his father, Raymond Skarset, in his original shop on California Avenue. The father-son duo remained at that location for about 30 years, Skarset said, before moving to Cambridge Avenue in 1997. They worked side by side until Raymond died in 2009.
While Skarset may have closed the doors of his longtime shop, he doesn't plan to retire any time soon. On July 3, Skarset moved into Beauty Spa by Ereeda located at 200 S. California Ave. near Mollie Stone's Markets, where he will continue to cut hair from a rented chair at the shop.
"It's been very interesting to see how the Silicon Valley's developed over all these years," said Skarset, who sat down with the Weekly earlier this week to reminisce about his many decades as a small business owner in Palo Alto. It's a profession that has included giving haircuts to Hewlett-Packard Co. co-founder David Packard along with countless students and professors from Stanford University.
Among the changes he's seen: Rents have gone up — way up.
He said the approximately 800-square-foot space on California Avenue where he and his father once worked is now vacant. When he inquired about possibly moving the shop back into that site, the landlord quoted him $5.50 per square foot.
"That's about $4,000 or $5,000. You'd have to really do a lot of business for that," Skarset said. "It was about $1,800 or $2,000" when he and his father were there.
The project that forced him to leave his Cambridge shop involves demolishing three buildings, with addresses ranging from 378 to 410 Cambridge, to make room for a new three-story building that will have retail on the ground floor and office space on the second and third. Most of the existing spaces have been occupied for many years by small business owners like Skarset.
"The little small business guys are all out now," he said referring to the many mom-and-pop businesses that once lined California Avenue. "It seems like everything's getting franchised now, but I've been staying in business. I've been here for 50 years now, and I'd like to stay around. I do good work, I love the business and I like the people."
In the final days before Skarset moved out of his longtime shop, most of the memorabilia that had covered the walls for generations had been taken down, including all the pennants from various universities that he had accumulated from customers over the decades.
His collection started when a former customer mentioned he was attending Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania, which Skarset had never heard of.
The customer told Skarset more about the school and later brought him a pennant, which he pinned to the wall. Clients carried on the tradition until Skarset's walls were covered.
"Maybe they'll let me put Stanford and Cal back up at the new place," he said.
"And Harvard ... I've got all the Ivy Leagues," he added with pride.
Although he said it's been difficult coming to terms with the move, he understands that change is inevitable.
"Life is always changing and you gotta go with the changes, I guess," he said.
He does, however, have some concerns about Palo Alto's rapid growth.
"There's too much wealth, and it's getting to be where if you're not wealthy, you're not going to be able to live here," he said, adding that it may not be long before residents will have to travel outside of Palo Alto to find mechanics, barbers and other service workers.
As for his thoughts about the new development replacing his shop and the adjacent buildings, he said he wishes the developers "the best of luck."