Fifty-three years and thousands of haircuts as a University District mainstay. At 83, Johnny Luera is calling it quits and planning for a future without that barber chair.

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The days are counting down for Johnny Luera and his barbershop in the University District.

Fifty-three years. Thousands and thousands of haircuts, all those guys who still make sure to stop by Johnny’s, as everybody calls him.

He started back in 1965 and just never stopped. Certainly, he’s the longest-tenured barber in the district, and probably Seattle.

In his little place at 5222 University Way N.E., with one single barber’s chair, there also is one great, big, indoor corn plant. It must be 10, 12 feet high. Through the decades, as he moved from one shop to another in the district, the plant came with him.

It looks pretty healthy, like Johnny does at age 83.

Yes, 83, and until Feb. 28, still showing up Wednesday through Saturday to cut hair, although his hearing is not great and you need to be close to him or shout. And his knees are giving out after all those years of standing.

Says Phyllis, his wife of 54 years, about what next, “Truthfully, I don’t know what he’s gonna do.”

But it was time, and Johnny listened to Phyllis, and his two grown children, and his doctors.

“I’m gonna start walking around Green Lake,” he says.

He still has his regulars, guys now in their 60s and 70s.

Greg Taylor, president of the family-run Liberty Orchards in Cashmere, makers of Aplets & Cotlets, is 68. When he was 16, his dad took him to Johnny’s. That would have been around 1966.

“I wanted a buzz cut. Johnny shaved it all off that first time,” says Taylor. “I went away for college and graduate school, but home for summer vacation I’d go to Johnny’s. When I started working for a living, I went to Johnny’s.”

And commuting between Cashmere and Seattle on a regular basis, Taylor kept going to Johnny’s

“I like him. He’s a good guy. I like my hair a certain way and John could do it that way. The thought of going to somebody else never crossed my mind. It’s somehow reassuring that if all else fails, there’s still Johnny,” says Taylor.

He plans to stop by Johnny’s one last time.

Despite popular myth, the University District in the 1960s and 1970s was not saturated with the proverbial long-haired hippies. From 1973 to 2006, there also was the 22-story Safeco Building occupied wholly by the insurance company, with its button-down employees.

For years, says Dale Lauer, 71, retired president of Safeco Commercial Insurance, it was mandatory that male employees wear a white shirt and tie.

Johnny was his barber for 27 years, and he remembers the bond that developed between barber and customers.

“I always got there early so I could hear the exchange between Johnny and whoever was in the chair. On this one occasion, Johnny was taking care of a longtime client. Johnny asked him how things were going,” remembers Lauer.

“The guy says, ‘I haven’t told you, but I’ve been out of work for quite a while. I’m to California tomorrow for an interview. Johnny wouldn’t let him pay. ‘Nope. You go to that interview and get that job.’ ”

There was plenty of business for the barbers in the district, although they did have to adjust.

An ad for Johnny’s back then said, “Long. Wavy. Curly. Burly. Tangled. Mangled. Styles all.”

On this recent afternoon, Jim Adolphson, 68, with residences in Seattle and Longbranch in the Key Peninsula, has come by for his last haircut with Johnny.

These days, Johnny is down to three to four appointments a day, $35 a haircut. That’s fine.

Other places, he says, “It’s rush, rush, rush. I give my customers one hour. I talk to them.”

Adolphson started going to Johnny when he was a fraternity guy at the University of Washington, majoring in business. He retired from an executive position in finance at Seattle University.

“Back then my hair wasn’t gray,” he says. “It was over the ears,” meaning a little longer now than his current short hairstyle.

Adolphson just kept coming back.

He sat around a bit after his haircut was done, listening about this or that in the shop.

Like the coin-operated shoe shine machine. It costs 25 cents, with the warning, “Guard clothing from polish.”

The patent for the Beck automatic shoe polisher was filed on Sept. 27, 1972.

“Some of those coins might be collector’s items,” says Adolphson about the accumulation of change in the machine.

Johnny and Phyllis arrived in Seattle in 1964. They had come to this state from Los Angeles in their Chevy Nova and with $200 in savings.

They rented a little place on Capitol Hill that came with a Murphy bed.

“He couldn’t find a job,” says Phyllis. “At that time they didn’t like Californians — well, they still don’t — and they said that if we had a job available we give it to our people, not Californians.”

So Johnny decided to use a skill he picked up during a stint in the Air Force in the late 1950s. He gave haircuts.

He had grown up in a large family with seven children in Houston, no dad around, starting to work as a teen. He shined shoes at a barbershop.

“I learned by looking at them, how they worked, how they treated customers,” says Johnny.

In the Air Force, he ordered some clippers from Sears, Roebuck and he was off.

In Seattle, he graduated from Folk’s Barber College. His diploma proudly hangs in his shop.

On the Ave, and its side streets, there had been some longtime barbers.

In the beginning, Johnny worked at Guy’s Barber & Style Shop, which is still around at 1407 N.E. 42nd Place.

Guy Massetti is 93, retired, having sold his place.

But Guy worked until he was 72. He understands why Johnny kept going.

“I mean, you want to do something instead of laying on the couch,” he says.

If not from his current location, Johnny’s old customers might remember him from Guy’s or from when he had a shop at what used to be called the Edmond Meany Hotel, then the University Tower Hotel and now Hotel Deca at 45th and Brooklyn.

On Saturday from 2 to 5, Johnny is hosting an open house.

Then there will be just three more working days for Johnny. He had hoped another barber would want to take his place, but there have been no takers for Johnny’s Barber & Style Shop.


Oh, yes.

“I’m gonna walk around Green Lake,” says Johnny.

There are no customers as he says that, so Johnny is sitting in the barber’s chair. He looks at home and comfortable in it.