WEST RIVER BARBER SHOP
An iconic barber shop in downtown Comstock Park has a new owner, a new name, and a slightly different address. After working at what was Helsel’s Barber shop for ten years Chris Ambrose bought the shop from owner Bob Myzek when he retired in September 2019 and changed the name to West River Barber Shop. Ambrose said she didn’t want to see the shop close and have to move somewhere else.
“We’ve got clients we’ve had for years,” she said. “The majority of our customers are from this area, so we didn’t want to move. If you move too far, you lose them.”
The barber shop has been in the same building for eighty years. Ambrose is the third owner. Long time Comstock Park resident Herald Helsel opened the shop in 1960. Myzek bought it from Helsel in 1982. Ambrose did have to move the shop located at 4005 West River Dr. from Suite B1 to Suite B3 at the back of the building. The owner of Style Up located in B2 in the front of the building had an agreement that she could expand into Suite B1 when Myzek retired.
Ambrose and Jerry Meyer, who had worked at the shop for ten years, bought new chairs and equipment and repainted their new digs. Then a new name seemed in order, and Ambrose said West River Barber Shop seemed fitting because of the street it’s located on.
Ambrose and Meyer both worked at Meijer Barber Shop for twenty years until it closed. They both then rented chairs at Helsel’s, which was an opportunity to bring their clients with them. There is a new barber at the shop now - Bob Schaner. Schaner and Meyer knew each other from the 1960’s when they both owned barber shops near each other in downtown Grand Rapids.
Ambrose attended what was then Chic University of Cosmetology in Grand Rapids after graduating from Northview High School. At Chic she had to learn not only cutting and styling hair, but giving perms, coloring hair, and the like. She knew immediately she wanted to be a barber, not a cosmetologist.
“Right off the bat I knew I just like to cut hair,” said Ambrose. “I don’t like to do perms.”
Ambrose said Chic didn’t offer classes in the history of barbering like some schools do, but she learned that from barbers she worked with as well as additional barbering skills from her boss at Meijer. Barbering is one of the world’s oldest professions dating back to more than 5000 years. During the middle ages barbers did more than cut hair and shave. They also dressed wounds and performed surgical operations as well as performing dentistry and were referred to as barber-surgeons. Over the centuries barbers and surgeons separated their professions. The familiar red, white, and blue barber pole, like the one outside West River Barber Shop was a way for early barbers to advertise not only their barbering but also their doctoring. The red stands for blood, the white for bandages, and the blue for veins.
While statistics vary on the percentage of women barbers in the United States, it is generally thought of as a male dominated industry. From the time she entered the barbing field until now Ambrose said she has met men who just don’t feel comfortable having a woman cut their hair. She said when she gets a man who has doubts, those doubts go away after they see the good cut she’s given them.
Ambrose lives in Plainfield Township with her Dave and sons Brad, 23, and Alex 18. When she’s not working Ambrose and her family enjoy going to their cottage in Six Lakes in the summer. She loves jet skiing and taking walks with their dog Joey.