Bill Musial works on a customer at his Grosse Pointe Park barbershop Dec. 7. Musial will retire after a 55-year career Dec. 22.

Bill Musial works on a customer at his Grosse Pointe Park barbershop Dec. 7. Musial will retire after a 55-year career Dec. 22.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Retiring veteran barber prepares for the final cut

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published December 18, 2018

 Hugs and handshakes — like this one between barber Bill Musial and longtime customer Rick Harmon, of Warren, on Dec. 7 — are common as Musial prepares to retire after a 55-year career.

Hugs and handshakes — like this one between barber Bill Musial and longtime customer Rick Harmon, of Warren, on Dec. 7 — are common as Musial prepares to retire after a 55-year career.

Photo by Deb Jacques


GROSSE POINTE PARK — Customers used to conclude their visits to William Joseph Musial — aka “Bill the Barber” — by paying for their haircuts. But lately, many have also been exchanging hugs with Musial — and even some tears.

“I can’t remember being hugged by so many customers,” he said.

After a 55-year career, Musial, 74, is hanging up his scissors Dec. 22. He’s never taken appointments, so he’ll take care of whoever comes into his shop — William J’s Hair Harbor at 15131 Kercheval Ave. in Grosse Pointe Park — during the regular business hours of 8:30 a.m.-5:45 p.m. And then he’ll sweep the floor and turn out the lights for the last time.

“I always said I was going to walk out that door, not be wheeled out,” Musial said.

A health scare this summer reminded him that life is short, and he needed to keep the promise he made to his wife of 55 years, Cheri Musial, that he would retire so they could spend more time with each other, traveling and visiting with family.

“I’ve been just waiting for this man to make up his mind. I made him all kinds of offers (if he’d retire), and he wasn’t biting,” Cheri Musial said with a laugh. “It’s been emotional for the guys, saying goodbye to him.”

They include customers like Mike Donovan, of Grosse Pointe Park — who’s been going to Musial since he moved to the area in 1995. Although he’s lived in Philadelphia and Australia for periods over the last two decades, he returned to Musial every time he could.

“I travel continents to go to Bill,” Donovan said. “This is the last good haircut I’m ever going to get.”

Grosse Pointe Farms resident Ernie Miedema echoed that sentiment.

“I’ll miss him,” said Miedema, who has been going to Musial for more than 30 years. “Bill’s been a nice guy for a lot of years. He knows a lot about Grosse Pointe. And he’s been doing a great job with my head, so that’s why I haven’t changed (barbers).”

The model train set in Musial’s front window caught the eye of 4-year-old Lachlan Wood, of Grosse Pointe Woods, last week as he was walking by with his mom, Beth Wood, and little sister, Brynn, 2.

“I like the snowman,” the boy told Musial. “I like the train most of all.”

Beth Wood brought her awestruck son into the shop.

“This is his first haircut out here,” she said, noting that the family recently moved to the Woods from New York. “It’s very bittersweet to find out they’re closing. My son is crazy for trains, so the train display first caught his eye.”

Musial, who has an adult son and daughter, has always had a soft spot in his heart for the little tykes. His playful manner puts nervous youngsters at ease.

“I always said if I couldn’t do kids (haircuts) anymore, I wouldn’t cut hair,” he said.

Musial has a policy of not charging for first haircuts or wedding haircuts, and over his lengthy career, he’s had the chance to do both for some of his clients.

“I’ve got a lot of guys that I’m going to miss,” Musial said. “I like to read mysteries; I’m reading one now. Over the years, I’ve come to realize, every little kid is a mystery. Who are they going to be? How are they going to turn out? You watch them change and mature. Their mom isn’t bringing them in anymore — they’re coming in by themselves. Then they’re coming in with their buddies. Then they’re coming in with their girlfriend.”

Health scare
It isn’t apparent now as Musial deftly snips and combs coifs, nimbly maneuvering around the barber chair, but he came perilously close to losing his mobility — and even his life — only months ago. Musial was off from the end of May to Aug. 1 after needing surgery to repair a ruptured disc in his back, and then suffering three large blood clots in his right lung after surgery.

It was the first time he was laid up for an extended period. Prior to that, the marathon runner and exercise enthusiast had only been absent from work one day for the flu, a half-day for food poisoning and two weeks for a broken leg; in the last instance, he said, when he first returned to the shop, he could only stand on one leg.

“My dad raised a workaholic,” Musial admitted. “I felt it was my obligation to go to work. The days that I missed, people may have needed a haircut for a specific reason, like a job interview.”

It doesn’t hurt that Musial loves what he does.

“I don’t consider it work,” he said. “My friends come in and we have a conversation, and before they leave, they give me money. It’s pretty hard to not want to be here.”

Eric Cherry, of Clarkston, is one of the loyal customers who drives long distances to see Musial. A police officer in Royal Oak, Cherry started going to Musial in 2010, on the recommendation of his father, another customer.

“I always looked forward to coming here,” Cherry said. “I used to just want to go in (to a barbershop) and get a haircut. Here was the first time I didn’t want to leave.”

Musial’s friendly nature and gift for gab have won over countless clients.

“He’s just a nice person, an easy person to talk to,” Miedema said.

Finding a career
The younger child and only son in his family, Musial grew up in Memphis, Michigan, and at his tiny high school, he said there were no school counselors to offer career advice. As the then-high school junior was about to select classes for his senior year, he said, one of his teachers pulled him aside and said Musial needed to put together courses that would prepare him for college. But Musial didn’t want to go to college. He also knew he didn’t want to follow in his marine mechanic father’s footsteps, having worked for him in the summer and realized that wasn’t for him.

That evening, Musial said he stopped by the local barbershop for a haircut. He realized that the barber, Tony Ross, was slight like the young Musial.

“I needed to find something my frame would suit,” Musial said. “I’m watching him, and he seems to be having a good time.”

As he saw how animated Ross was as he engaged with his customers, a light bulb went off in Musial’s head, and he realized he’d found his calling.

Musial — who started barber school in October 1962 and completed the program less than a year later — said he took and passed his barber exam on Aug. 5, 1963, at the Book Cadillac Hotel in Detroit. He completed his apprenticeship in St. Clair and teamed with another barber at the Macomb Barbershop in Mount Clemens for about nine years, but “I realized the only partner I wanted was the one I was married to.” And so, Musial moved on to a shop in Utica, where he rented a chair in a shop for a number of years before moving his business to the Park.

Musial said a prominent local businessman once came into his shop after a competitor declined the man because he looked a bit unkempt after he had spent an afternoon doing yardwork.

“The barber I first worked with told me, ‘Treat them all the same,’” Musial said of his customers. “Regardless of how they look when they come in, it’s about how they look when they walk out.”

Musial’s clients have included officials like Park City Councilman Daniel Grano.

“I think my dad gave me my first haircut and it was a disaster, so my parents took me to Bill when he first opened (in the Park) 34 years ago,” Grano recalled by email. “I was 2.”

“He’s a great conversationalist, and he’s always empathetic,” said Greg Swetka, of Grosse Pointe Park, who’s been going to Musial for the last 20 years. “He’s not just a barber.”

Musial has been something of an unofficial therapist for some of his customers. He fights tears as he recalls his farewell to a customer in his 40s who’s been getting his hair cut by Musial since he was a boy. Musial said the lifelong customer got emotional as he remembered the major life events — including his parents’ divorce and his mother’s battle with cancer — that he shared with the barber.

“He said, ‘You helped me,’” Musial recounted.

Retired architect Dale Ehresman, of Grosse Pointe Park, said he’s been going to Musial for so long, he doesn’t remember ever going to another barber.

“He’s a terrific barber and an even better person,” Ehresman said. “He charged for the haircut, but he doesn’t charge for the armchair psychology.”

Helping the community
Decades before Grosse Pointe Park’s Kercheval business district became The Park, a bustling commercial strip home to restaurants, shops and special events, the Musials breathed new life into it. Musial opened his Park barbershop circa 1984, and 10 years later, Cheri Musial opened Pointe Pet’s Supply next door, operating it for about 20 years.

Cheri became president of the Grosse Pointe Park Business and Professional Association — a position she held for seven years — and the couple helped to organize a Christmas tree lighting, beautified and maintained the area with flowers and actively promoted the district. On Dec. 10, the Park City Council presented the Musials with a resolution in their honor for their contributions.

“Bill and a few other business owners invested in the Park in the early ’80s, way before Kercheval was a popular place to be investing in, and served the community,” Grano said by email. “He and his wife, Cheri, helped start a business association and advocated for improvements in West Park. He improved his building and won a beautification award. He was also a friend to many in the community.”

Grano said when he got on the City Council, he “learned about a lot of issues in the business community and the community at large through Bill that otherwise I never would have known about.”

“Both he and his wife did a lot for the community,” Ehresman said. “They brought a sense of community, because they knew so many people.”

Kelli Ketzler, of Grosse Pointe Park, is a former customer of Cheri Musial’s pet store, through which she got to know the couple. Ketzler stopped by the barbershop last week to say goodbye.

“It’s going to (leave) a huge void,” she said. “I believe that they’ve touched lives in a personal way. They’ve brought a lot of positive warmth and feel-good energy to this block. And a lot of love.”

Musial said he spent five years trying to find a barber willing to take over the shop for him, to no avail, so instead, he sold his building to a well-known couple in the community; he couldn’t reveal their name at press time. He doesn’t know what the couple plan to do with his shop, but it appears that the shipping and equestrian business renting the former Pointe Pet’s Supply space is expected to stay, and Musial said the new owners intend to live in the apartment he designed above the business, where he and his wife stayed when they weren’t at their waterfront home in East China Township.

“Bill is a great guy and he and his barbershop will be missed in our community,” Grano said by email. “There are no other barbershops left in the Park. I had great joy bringing my oldest son, JP, there a few weeks ago for his first Barber Bill haircut. JP got to sit on the same board I did to get my first barbershop haircut.”

Closing up shop
Aside from a few short trips to visit his grandchildren in Georgia, Musial said he and his wife have “never taken the time to travel.”

“We’ve never been to Europe,” he said. “We’ve never been to the Grand Canyon.”

After closing up shop Dec. 22, Musial said he and Cheri will head to Georgia to spend Christmas with their son and grandsons. They hope to return to Georgia in March, and might drive out West later in the spring. A trip to Europe is something the Musials are contemplating for fall 2019. Volunteering for the local senior center and garden club are also on the Musials’ retirement radar.

“We’ll have time,” he said. “Everyone can have more properties and more money, but everybody only gets 24 hours (a day). I do know I want to spend more time with my family and friends.”

He’s known many of his customers for so long, Musial said he considers them friends too. In recent weeks, he’s been passing out business cards he had made with his home and cellphone numbers, so people can keep in touch. The usually tech-averse Musial has even created an email account.

Others may turn to Google for answers, but Musial has turned to his customers. They’ve included titans of industry, politicians, professional athletes and utility company executives, among others.

“I have 1,000 experts (in my chair),” Musial said. “I’ve learned so much from them… The decisions that I made from the advice of those businesspeople catapulted Cheri and me into the (success) we’ve had.”

For more information, call the barbershop at (313) 822-7353.