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Jack Russell: A Downtown Columbus Institution
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The Athletic Club of Columbus has been around since 1912. There’s a bowling alley in the basement, a swimming pool on the 4th floor, a gym with cardio and weightlifting equipment. But tucked away in a corner on the main floor is a very small shop run by a venerable athletic club institution. His name is Jack Russell.
“I think the guys that come in here love the convenience and the idea of a shop that’s right here as they go in and out,” says Russell.
But it’s more than a matter of convenience. Patrons love Jack Russell and Jack Russell is a dedicated proprietor.
“A lot of times I’ll work as much as 72 hours a week,” Russell says. “And I think that is simply because I love my work and I love the people here and I really enjoy seeing them and talking to them every day.”
Russell does not see his customers every day; just when they need a little sprucing up. You see, Jack Russell is the athletic club’s barber.
“Barbering is really like, it is art. It is an art form but instead of using an easel and a brush you’re using barbering tools,” Russell says.
And for more than 50 years the artist in Russell has been at work five and six days a week.
“I do not feel 73. I feel more like I’m in my late 30s or 40s somewhere,” Russell says.
He attributes that to his busy schedule which includes daily workouts in the athletic club gym. Russell says he’s always been a hard worker, even as a boy in Huntington, West Virginia.
“When I grew up I was always one that worked hard and I loved to go to the barber shop because I loved that feeling. But I didn’t have any idea that I would become a barber,” Russell says.
He learned barbering young while serving in the Navy. He says the chief petty officer aboard ship gave him his first chance.
He said, ‘Well, if you will go up and practice on your buddies after hours, and if you become good enough that you could produce haircuts like the three barbers that we have in the shop now, I’ll put you in there.’ Well, I did that. And I excelled.
After the service, Russell moved to Columbus and has been here ever since. Much of his barbering career was spent on South High Street across from what would become the City Center Mall. When developers bought the building where he worked, the athletic club asked Russell to come to work there.
Jack Russell prefers not provide names of his clientele but he will say that his customers include former mayors, present-day lawmakers, and leaders in the business world.
“As a barber this is a very close personal business. And in order to maintain friends – have friends, have customers – you need to keep what is here, you need to keep it stay here. You need to keep that confidence,” Russell says.
That’s a code that professional barbers live by. Maintaining confidence is essential.
If people get used to you and hooked into your personality as a friend they will get personal, ask your advice, ask you what you think, and if you have a lot of common sense I think people will listen.
Barbering has changed a lot since the Athletic Club of Columbus first opened its doors just over a hundred years ago. So has the size of the club’s barber shop.
“In 1914 we had five barbers,” Russell says. “This shop used to be larger and the club needed a ladies’ restroom so some of the space was cut out of this to make a ladies restroom next door.”
In fact, a lot of space went to the restroom which means today’s barbershop is tiny.
“I have to make use of every available inch. This is a good location, it’s a good one-chair shop, it works well and we manage with the space that we have,” Russell says.
Even though he works in close quarters Russell is undeterred. He applies that same zeal to each head of hair that he grooms.
“It can be a challenge,” Russell says. “Sometimes I’ll run into a head of hair and I’ll say to myself, ‘Can I really do this?’ And then I will always end up saying, ‘Hell yes, I’ve been a barber for over 50 years. I can do it!’”
It’s with that same determination that Russell keeps barbering day in and day out. Retirement? That’s nowhere on the horizon.
“Since I love barbering I will keep going for as long as I live until my body bites me and says, ‘Jack, you can no longer do this,’” Russell says.