THE WAY IT WAS:
Malcolm Cain, then a Lake Worth barber for five years, giving John Grunwald
By Andrew Abramson
LAKE WORTH: Malcolm Cain says if he had saved a nickel from every haircut he's given since arriving in Lake Worth in 1962, he could put down his scissors and retire a happy man.
At about 200,000 haircuts in 50 years, that comes out to $10,000 - not quite enough to retire, although at 76, Cain's not slowing down. He's still seeing one customer after another five days a week.
And as he hits the half-century mark, Cain still does it his way.
He doesn't take appointments and he doesn't accept credit or debit cards. Before he gave into technology and bought a cellphone, there wasn't even a phone at Cain's Barber Shop.
The only time Cain advertised his shop was when his children attended Lake Worth High and he bought an ad in the school newspaper. "I can truthfully say I never got any customers from it," Cain said.
So how has he been able to stay in business for 50 years - 57 if you count his days buzzing heads in the Navy, and his year at the Comeau Building in West Palm Beach when he first arrived in Florida?
"When he's done, you get the hot cream, then you get the cold Seabreeze and he mats your hair down. He's always to the T. Perfect," said John Grunwald, 46, who had his first haircut from Cain 45 years ago and now visits the barber shop with 13-year-old son, Russell.
Cain knows he could have made a few extra bucks if he went for quantity and not quality, but he said he strives to give each customer individual care, no matter how long it takes and how many customers are waiting .
And he stresses that he's a barber, focusing on men's hair, although he has the occasional female client who prefers the male-style cut.
"The way they're teaching barbering in barber college right now is totally and completely different than what I was taught," Cain said. "Barber colleges are being run by beauticians. As far as I'm concerned, there are two different types of cutting. Women, beauticians, do blunt cutting while barbers do tapering and blending.
"When 99 percent of beauticians finish a man's haircut, I can show you every line that's in it. They don't know how to finish."
Cain, originally from southern Indiana and still speaking in his "Hoosier slang" as he describes it, grimaces when he remembers the cold years, which lasted from the early 1970s to late 1980s.
"At various times it was very slow, very hard to make a living," Cain said. "That was the long-hair phase."
"I had girlfriends who persuaded me to start going to unisex boutiques where everyone wore bellbottoms and sideburns," Goffe said. "I quit going to barbers back then, and I didn't start going back until I went to the salon with my wife one time and decided there was too much estrogen in there and I had to get back to a barber. That's when I found Malcolm."
Even when long hair ruled, Cain said he didn't give up his dream job because he knew "everything goes in cycles."
"There's one thing I've always cut a whole lot of, and that's flat tops," Cain said. "In barbering you just have to adjust to every customer that's in the chair. You can't cut everybody's hair the same.
"Somebody will come in and say, 'I want a haircut just like he's got,' but if he doesn't have the same style of hair, it can't be done."
Cain, who is married, said his one regret was never buying his own shop. He's worked in three different locations in downtown Lake Worth, including his current shop at 506 B Lucerne Ave., where he's resided for six years.
But he knows that he's done well enough, especially when he considers his humble beginnings as a Navy barber on the U.S.S. Intrepid in Louisville, Ky.
"I walked into the barber shop, it was an eight-chair crew, and they only had four barbers in there," Cain said. "I just simply made the statement, 'What's the matter, you need a barber?' The guy running the barber shop said, 'You know how to cut hair?'
"I said, 'No, but I don't figure it will take long to learn how.' The next morning I was in there cutting hair."