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Eau Claire barber retires after nearly six decades

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EAU CLAIRE (WQOW) -- After nearly six decades at the helm of his own business Ed Valk is ready to put down his clippers and retire to his farm in Stanley with his beloved wife.

At 83-years-old, Valk is far past the age people typically retire and he said there was no rhyme or reason, just that he loves his job.

"I've never minded coming to work," Valk said.

"I like to go home at night, but I've never minded coming to work because I've got some great people that come in and they make your day every day."

He's worked out of 307 E Grand Ave. in downtown Eau Claire since April 1, 1953. The building itself has been a barbershop since 1901, with Valk as the longest-running owner.

The age of the building and its history is fitting for a man who likes to "clip it" old school.

"I have a lot of people stop in because the shop is so old and we're keeping it that way. [Some people] come in with their kids and say 'I love shops like this because when I was a little girl I used to go into shops like this with my dad.' So it brings back happy memories," Valk explained of the deer heads and old-time register patrons come in to see.

After 57 years, he is finally ready to retire and his dream of keeping Ed's Barbershop in the family is coming true.

"The four of us brothers are barbers in the family and I kind of wanted to keep the tradition going so I'm glad Brett's coming," Valk said.

Valk's grandson, Brett Watnemoe, is a barber in his own right having studied cosmetology and worked at a barbershop in Madison before coming to take over Ed's.

Watnemoe said he does not plan on making many changes to the shop loved by so many.

"People come in here just for the aesthetic of the shop everyone's asked 'well you gotta take the deer of the wall and this and that' and I'm like 'oh that's staying man.' This is what makes it Ed's Barber Shop," he said.

Despite growing up sweeping hair off the shop floor, Watnemoe said he just stumbled into barbering.

"[My grandpa] one day was like 'why not try cutting hair?' and I went 'ah that's your thing I don't want to do that." Then time went on, I took a year off then I enrolled in courses at Chippewa Valley Technical College for cosmetology and a week in I was like 'yup this it. I'm set'," he explained.

For Valk, it is a tough goodbye but he knows he is leaving his shop in good hands.

"Our instructor in Milwaukee told us don't get too close to your customers and I blew that out of the water. I can't see not getting your people because they're like my dads, my sons, my grandsons, my brothers. It's hard to walk away but I'm going to do it," he said.

Stephanie Rodriguez

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