CARO — With a front row seat to downtown Caro for the last 50 years, Stu Wieland has been privy to a lot and — at 74 years young – has no plans to give up such a great view.
And why would he?
After all, as owner of Wieland’s Barber Shop, he’s had the best view of Caro since the shop held its grand opening April 28, 1966 – almost exactly 50 years ago today.
Not only that, but Wieland’s Barber Shop serves as one of the last vestiges of time, to a bygone era when the barbershop was where men went to do men things, make men jokes, and have men gossip – as opposed to going on some computer or ridiculous thing called “Facebook.”
Walk in today and it feels like 1966.
It smells like 1966.
It is 1966.
“I have a group of guys…they come in here in the morning and they stay until about 10:30 and they just solve everything,” said Stu Wieland. “So then they come back again about 3:30 to make sure they got it right the first time.
“Mostly, they just drink my coffee. They don’t really get haircuts. They just show up.”
Of course, that may or may not be true.
“We always said ‘Whatever happens in the barbershop, stays in the barbershop,’” said Bruce Wieland, 79, who retired from the shop “in 2013 or 2014.”
Why do people like Dwayne Hall go there?
“I just know Stu really well,” Hall said with a grin while getting a cut Friday.
Brothers Stu Wieland and Bruce Wieland opened the barbershop when Caro had a bustling downtown area. Wieland’s, in fact, was one of seven barbershops in Caro.
It’s located in about 300 square feet at 118 W. Lincoln St.
It’s the only barbershop Caro has in 2016.
The brothers recall with big smiles a time when there were shoe stores like Buckley’s, specialty clothing stores like Webster’s and Fred’s, even department stores in the downtown area. They talk of a time when going to downtown Caro was an event – the event for many.
People actually dressed up when they went to downtown Caro, they say.
“We would stay open until 9 p.m. on Fridays because that’s when a lot of the farmers and their families would come to town,” said Bruce Wieland.
Of course, the time he talks about was 50 years ago.
In 1966, Stu Wieland was 24. He had graduated from Caro High School in 1960, went to the Detroit Barber College in 1961 – graduated in 1962 – and was an apprentice at the Wenonah Hotel in Bay City and Fred Jones’ Barbershop in Caro, ultimately receiving his Master Barber’s License in 1964. It still hangs on the shop’s wall.
Before opening the shop with his brother, Stu Wieland also spent two years in the U.S. Army, including seven months in Vietnam.
Bruce Wieland was 29 in 1966. He graduated from Caro High School in 1955 and worked at L.E. Myers Construction Co. for seven years before he began his career at Detroit Barber College in 1963. He would go on to serve apprenticeships in Clare and at Jones’ Barbershop in Caro, where, like his brother, Bruce Wieland earned his Master Barber’s license.
Stu Wieland said the brothers’ dad steered them in the direction of becoming barbers.
“He always worked outdoors,” Stu said. “I think he wanted something a little different for us.
“I don’t know if I ever could’ve worked around some machine in a factory with someone saying ‘Ok, you can take a 15-minute break now,’” Stu Wieland said.
The original Wieland’s Barber Shop was at 129 W. Burnside in Caro. The city bought the land and it’s now a parking lot behind the set of buildings that includes the Oasis Tavern.
In the mid-1980s, the brothers moved to the current location on Lincoln Street.
“At one time there wasn’t a place to rent a storefront in Caro,” Stu Wieland said.
“A lot of automotive industry people lived in Caro,” Bruce Wieland said. “It was a bedroom community for many. Well, when that goes away, the workers go away, and the workers’ families go away.”
“It makes a difference to a community, what happens around them,” Stu Wieland said.
Throughout their respective careers as barbers, the brothers have seen a lot more than the makeup of businesses in downtown Caro change. That’s why they’ve been contacted by the library on occasion for help in genealogy research.
They’ve seen simpler things like wildlife – deer and pheasants, for example, walking down the street past their shop.
There used to be so many kids in the downtown area, they would give out gum to those who popped in for a minute. Old Archie & Veronica comic books were available for those awaiting a turn in the chair.
They’ve seen heavier things, too.
They’ve seen criminals run by.
There was the time they were interviewed by the FBI when an old neighboring business was being questioned for any possible connection to selling weapons to Terry Nichols, convicted for his role as an accomplice to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings.
Stu Wieland even recalls the spot he was standing as an apprentice when a young journalist named Rudy Petzold – who would later go on to become editor, publisher and owner of The Tuscola County Advertiser –came running in and said that President Kennedy had been shot.
And there was a very long three-month period in 2012 where the barbershop was closed because a fire had destroyed a big chunk of it, including back bars and mirrors and sports memorabilia.
“I was going to quit for a while there,” Stu Wieland said.
At some point, however, the “job” aspect of being a barber went out the window – the Wielands stopped “working” as barbers, and were simply barbers.
In other words, quitting wasn’t an option after the fire.
“It definitely was a blue time,” Stu Wieland said.
Scott Wieland, Stu Wieland’s son, recognized it and help get the barbershop back up and running.
“I wish we had a picture of that,” said Jeanne Wieland, Stu’s wife. “There were guys looking in the window like ‘Where are they?’”
In fact, Wieland’s walks the fine line between business and social club.
Technically speaking, a haircut does cost actual money – $10 each.
How many haircuts does Stu Wieland give daily? Weekly? Monthly? Annually?
“No idea,” he said.
What about the future of Wieland’s Barber Shop?
“That’s a good question,” Stu Wieland said.
However, there has been more than enough business to pay the rent and live a good life in Caro, said Scott Wieland, Stu Wieland’s son.
“This place has raised two families and six kids,” Scott Wieland said.
And Stu Wieland said none of it would be possible without support from the community.
“I just really want to thank the loyal customers I’ve had throughout the years,” he said.
Andrew Dietderich is editor of The Advertiser and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org