Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sandâ€”
when I awake, I am still with you.
Story & Photos by Nicholas Johnson
On a Saturday afternoon Bob Sheen’s barber shop is alive with the sound of a college football game on TV and men in their 50s telling stories and sharing laughs. Sheen and his partner John each fine tune the cuts they’ve given the men in their chairs as two other men wait their turn, flipping through Rifleman Magazine and listening to the commentators on TV.
Finishing up and saying goodbye to one of his faithful customers, Sheen goes in for a hug. Such a gesture may catch some off guard, but in Sheen’s barber shop everyone is a friend.
“Anyone who sits in his chair, he considers a friend. That’s just basic to Bob,” says Gib Martin, a dear friend of Sheen’s since he began cutting hair in the â€˜60s. “He has a concern not just for the hair, but for the heart.”
Sheen grew up in Boulevard Park and has lived in the Burien area his whole life. On top of that, he has been cutting hair since 1964 when he began working at his father’s shop in the Thriftway shopping center at South 120th Street and Des Moines Memorial Drive South.
“There has been a Sheen cutting hair in Burien from 1948 until today,” Sheen said.
Sheen’s father bought his first barber shop in 1948 in Seahurst. Two years later he relocated to Boulevard Park. Sheen worked at his father’s shop for a little over a year in 1964 before suiting up for an active duty stint with the Army Reserves. When he came home, he opened a barber shop of his own – in the Safeway shopping center at 1st Avenue South and 148th Street. When his father closed his shop in 1972, he moved into Bob’s Burien location and stayed for 13 years until he retired in 1985. After more than 30 years in that location, Sheen moved into a shop on Southwest 153rd Street across from Bison Creek Pizza in August of 2005.
Sheen said his father helped get him started in the beginning, buying him his back bar, a couple hair-cutting chairs and some waiting chairs.
“He bankrolled me,” Sheen said. “He backed me to get me started.”
Sheen said business was extremely slow starting out, but once it picked up it never let down. For the past 40 years, Sheen has maintained a steady customer base many small businesses would kill for.
“My wife said to me about a year ago, â€˜You know what I like about being married to you? I like being married to a man who is content,'” Sheen said. “And I have been a happy, content guy all the years that I have served the community here in Burien. There hasn’t been a time that I wished I was somewhere else.”
Calling it quits
Sheen’s loyal customers have been clamoring all month to schedule their final cut with the barber they have depended upon for decades. Sheen plans to retire by the end of the year. He and his wife Marilyn expect to be on the road to their new home in Tucson, Ariz. by 10 a.m. on Jan. 1.
“We’ve been formulating the idea, the dream, the plan of moving to Tucson for 15 years,” Sheen said.
Having traveled to Arizona regularly for years, his wife Marilyn grew attached to the warm weather. The couple sold their Burien house in as few as 35 days after putting it on the market in 2007 and moved into a condo in Normandy Park.
Now, Sheen has got plans to travel for a couple months before settling into the apartment he and his wife plan to rent in Tucson. They plan to visit Palm Springs on their way to Tucson, and from there travel across the southern United States until they reach Fort Lauderdale, Fla. From there they plan to cruise the Bahamas. Once back in Tucson, Sheen figures he’ll play golf, go for a hike and, most importantly, continue to live the life of love and service he adopted 40 years ago.
Love and service
In 1969 Gib Martin walked into Sheen’s shop for a haircut. Martin noticed Sheen’s distraught demeanor and asked him what had gotten him down. Sheen, who was raised Roman Catholic, said he was questioning his faith in God. Martin said, “Well, when you finish cutting my hair, I’d like to have a prayer with you.” As Sheen remembers, that prayer turned his heart to Jesus Christ and forever changed the way he lived his life.
Although, at first, his wife wasn’t exactly happy to hear he had accepted Jesus into his heart, even she noticed the “radical change” he made for himself in the coming weeks.
“The gift that Gib sowed into my life was the best gift I have ever received,” Sheen said. “Gib stepped in at a time when I was screwing up my life fast. I feel like I’m one of the wealthiest guys in the world.”
As Sheen and nearly anyone who knows him will tell you, from that day forward he lived to serve his community and love everyone.
“I have been a person who has listened and loved, and has been of service to the people here both by standing behind that chair and speaking words of encouragement,” Sheen said.
Over the years, Sheen has donated his time by cutting hair for prisoners as a member of Kairos Prison Ministry International. He has also volunteered his time at nursing homes, cutting hair for the elderly and mentally disabled.
Longtime Burien resident Bob Brice, who has been coming in for a haircut for the past 40 years, said Sheen has been about as good a friend as anyone could ask for. He recalls sitting at home in a reclining rocker after having recently had his femur shortened when he fell over and couldn’t get up.
“I called Bob at the barber shop and he dropped everything to come over and set me upright,” Brice said.
Many of his customers have been coming in for a haircut for decades, and some travel for hours just to visit with Sheen.
“I have a costumer that travels 160 miles round trip just to get a hair cut,” Sheen said. “He drove up here the other morning, from Centralia to Burien, got his hair cut, took some tootsie rolls, gave me a hug and headed back to Centralia. I have known that man for just over 50 years and he has made that trip for 35 years.”
John Spengler, who met Sheen his freshman year at O’Dea High School in Seattle, remembers riding the Metro bus home from school with Sheen. He said Sheen would get off the bus right in front of his father’s barber shop and spend his afternoons sweeping up and doing his homework.
“He is one of the few people who is a rock in the community,” Spengler said. “He is a friend to everyone. He has never judged anyone. He is one of a very few good men in this community, and I love him to death.”
Spengler said he expects Sheen will find his way back to Burien, even if it’s just to visit. Otherwise, Spengler said he may drop in on his old friend when he takes a motorcycle trip down to Arizona next September.
Sheen said his prayers have recently been filled with thoughts of those with whom he has become so close over the past 40 years.
“I’ve got a whole collage of faces that I’ve grown to appreciate and love doing business with and really liked as individuals – whether they gave me money to put in the register or not – that I won’t see again,” Sheen said. “I’m changing everything that my life has been about up to this point by going to a completely different area to live, but that mandate of love and service by which I live my life will remain the same.”
If you have a memory of Bob Sheen or his barber shop, please share by leaving a Comment below. And be sure to stop in for that final haircut, if you haven’t already.]]>