HENDERSON — With an estimated population of nearly 1,000, Henderson is far from being considered a metropolis.
Recently, Henderson native Taylor Peulen was keen to kiss big-city life goodbye and return to his hometown along the Minnesota River.
“I liked being in Chicago, but I was out of work for three months during the lockdown,” said Peulen, a 2009 Le Sueur-Henderson High School graduate. “I wasn’t doing anything productive there and didn’t want to be in the apartment 24/7 so I said to my wife, ‘Let’s go back to Henderson.’”
It didn’t take much more than a nudge to convince Peulen that the Sibley County community was the perfect place for a 30-year-old barber.
“Dick Downs retired in September 2019 and sold his building to the bank,” Peulen said. Downs was a longtime barber in Henderson.
“Another guy rented it for a while, but he was deployed to Afghanistan with the National Guard and had to step back.”
That forced local customers to reluctantly adjust their habits to maintain their distinctive ‘dos.
“I was really bummed when the previous barber left,” said Adam Arnst, a busy young father of two who commutes to Mankato East High School for his job as a physical education and health teacher.
Added retired farmer Milt Meierbachtol, 82, “I had to make appointments with some of the gals around town without a barber here.”
A hairy history
When Peulen and his wife of six years, Anna, arrived in Henderson, they got busy helping Peulen’s mother and step-father, Lisa and Jeff Steinborn, with a house they were remodeling. Anna, a trained hair stylist whose tight-knit Italian family resides in Chicago, stepped in to work with Jeff at his Henderson screen-printing and embroidery business, Evolution Shirts.
“The more time we spent here, the more we weren’t sure we wanted to go back to the hustle and bustle,” Peulen said.
There were, in fact, downsides to the limitless options of restaurants, entertainment and nightlife.
“Our apartment was less than two miles from the barbershop where I worked, but it could take me 20 to 30 minutes to get there some days,” Peulen said. “After the gridlock traffic and constant pandemonium you start to think, ‘There’s got to be a better way to do this.’”
Peulen had fond memories of childhood haircuts in Dick Downs’ chair, and in the back of his mind he harbored an old aspiration.
“It was always my dream to own the shop,” Peulen said.
He talks warmly about the building he purchased at 413 Main St. — it was officially reopened as a barber business on June 21.
“Dick Downs was born and raised here and he knew everybody,” Peulen said. “It [his shop] didn’t really have a name — it was just the town barbershop with the pole out front, and it’s been there since 1974.”
“I’m working on a sign for it now, but this is the shop that Dicky built and, in my opinion, any name other than ‘Dicky’s Barbershop’ would be disrespectful.”
After a few post-high school fits and starts, Peulen followed in Downs’ footsteps, earning his barber certification in 2011 at Moller Barber School in Minneapolis.
But it was Peulen’s avocational interest in music that connected him to his wife.
“I spent a year working and playing in metal, punk bands — I used to play bass guitar—and I had a lot of friends from Chicago that I’d known for years,” he said.
While visiting the Windy City, Peulen met his wife through mutual friends. After living for a while in the Twin Cities, the couple returned to Chicago, where he worked at a barbershop and Anna at a salon “a couple blocks from Wrigley Field,” according to Peulen.
Now the Peulens, plus their two cats and a Boxer named Boris, live down the street from Dicky’s Barbershop.
“It’s a block and a half walk — literally the best commute I’ve ever had,” Peulen said.
When Peulen bought the building, it was an empty box, a skeleton of the barber shop it used to be. He’s been fixing it up while running his business.
“It’s a work in progress, but every week I’m improving it,” he said. He maintains regular hours from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. each Monday and Wednesday, with the potential of adding a third day in the future.
Convenience and cool cuts
Customers like Arnst, whose daughters are 2 years old and less than two months old, appreciate the convenience of having a skilled barber like Peulen close to home.
“It’s great,” Arnst said. “He has a good sense of style and understands the way I like my hair.”
“If I have 45 minutes free, I’ll walk in and get a haircut. This is a great asset for Henderson.”
At 82, Meierbachtol has more time on his hands; he values Peulen’s old-school barbershop approach.
“You can walk in anytime and if he’s not busy, he’ll take you right in,” he said.
Peulen, though experienced in all kinds of cuts, knows some clients just want the basic — and that’s okay.
“I can do any cut, any style, any texture,” said Peulen. “I’ve cut at any type of shop you can imagine.”
Peulen is committed to maintaining the no-appointment, cash-only setup that Downs used.
“Since 1974, no appointments have ever been done here,” Peulen said. “It’s a social environment and everyone can come in.
“I buy papers every day — the Free Press, the Henderson Independent, sometimes the Star Tribune — so there’s always something for people to read.”
To his amusement, Peulen is getting lots of requests for mullets of late.
“I did five mullets for back-to-school haircuts on a recent Monday,” he said with a laugh.
“Who would have thought that in 2021 there would be mullet mania? I love doing them; they look so ridiculous, and none of my friends or I would have gone to school with one—but now they’re almost a badge of honor.”
Peulen’s initiative is praised by longtime Henderson supporters including Doug Thomas, a founder of the Minnesota New Country School and avid restorer of historic downtown buildings.
“It’s always great to have another business in town, and the barbershop is obviously one we missed,” Thomas said.
“We’re thrilled to have Taylor back, and he returned for the right reasons. He really wanted to live in Henderson again and do something of value for the community.”
Besides the essential service Peulen provides, Thomas foresees other contributions, too.
“I expect he’ll get involved in lots of other things here,” Thomas said. “He seems like that type of person.”
Denny Graham, an area realtor and retired rural United States Postal Service carrier, is similarly encouraging.
“I give Taylor all the credit in the world for taking this step,” Graham said. “The old-fashioned barbershop is something a lot of small towns are losing, but this preserves it for us and keeps the social aspect it supplies.”
A 1970 Henderson High School graduate, Graham and his wife Sharon raised their three sons in town.
“Taking my kids for back-to-school haircuts was a traditional thing,” Graham said. “I hope Taylor is successful; he’s easy-going and nice to visit with.”
Aside from his barbering skills, that trait might be Peulen’s secret weapon.
“At the end of the day, I like to talk to people; I want to know what they’re doing, hear their stories and life experiences,” said Peulen. “This is a communication hub—barbershops were a town’s gossip center before Facebook existed—and sure, things have changed a bit, but that will never change here.”