"It's probably the main reason I stayed in this spot all this time," Tanner said last week with a nod toward his storefront windows. "The view has been great, and I've really enjoyed the girl watching," he added with a twinkle in his eye.
Tanner rejected all suggestions that he add curtains or shades to the windows -- they would have obstructed the view.
In between haircuts, he rested on a leather chair and waved to countless friends who passed by. He has also listened to the radio for 67 years straight, and resisted any urge to bring in a television set.
"That radio goes on at 7 a.m. in the morning and stays on all day, everyday," Tanner pointed. Not a music aficionado, he has been loyal to three Chicago talk radio stations in succession.
Patrons who enter Tanner's shop may take a quick look out the window just to verify they are still in the 1980's. The shop itself is a scene out of the 1930's, complete with two old barber chairs, linoleum floor, fluorescent lighting and wood framed mirrors and work station.
"I moved down the block with Bill Weaver in 1930, when attorney Victor Roberts moved across the street," Tanner recalled. "We had been up the street, in the Sears building, with the barber shop in front and Weaver's mortuary, complete with a funeral chapel and embalming room in back, but then he moved the funeral home and the place was too big for us."
Tanner soon bought the shop equipment from Weaver and worked alone for 58 years, renting the shop from three different women over the years. "I've never had a lease, or even a handshake agreement. I guess my word was good enough."
When a "girl barber from Hebron" approached Tanner recently about sharing quarters, he contacted his landlady and she passed the word along to his neighbors, Uptown Stylists. "The husband of one of the owners, Cindy Sanders, came in and asked me about selling the equipment. They have the right of first refusal on my shop in their lease, and they need my back room because they are crowded next door, I think they want to put a tanning bed in."
Tanner went home to think about retiring at age 84. He called his son Lee in Indianapolis and tested out the idea, because wife Louise "didn't want to talk about it."
The next day, Tanner called Sanders and accepted an offer.
This retirement is much more traumatic than Tanner's departure in 1986 from the Lowell Plan Commission, which he had served since it was established 20 years earlier. "I guess they liked me because I knew a lot about what had taken place in town," Tanner says humbly of his long tenure.
In 1986, there was a Babe Tanner Day in Lowell, but this time around, there will be a quieter open house at the barber shop. Friends are providing cake and coffee so friends and customers have an excuse to stop in Friday and Saturday, Dec. 23 and 24, and bid Tanner farewell, anytime from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
After he closes the shop for the last time Dec. 24, Tanner may do some traveling -- if he can convince Louise to spend even one night away from home. "We haven't had a vacation in 67 years, I guess. The only thing Louise enjoys is riding in a car, and we always take a ride on Sundays."
"When I told her I was going to retire, the first thing she said was, "Now we can take two rides every day."
Tanner also said he has already committed himself to "having coffee twice a day with the boys," while his friends look for someplace new to hang out on a slow day.
Meanwhile, Tanner has been carting home a box of memories every day from his shop, while Lee made a trip north to stake his claim. "He took my old cash register. I asked him why he wanted it, since it had dropped on the floor and didn't work right, but he said he wanted it because it was part of me."
One thing Tanner won't have to carry home is a mirror. Asked how he adapted to the changing hair styles that have come and gone over 67 years, he had a quick answer. "If anyone asked to see the back of their head, I just told them I didn't have a hand mirror -- and I never got one."
As for why he endured longer than most small businessmen, Tanner offered his philosophy: "You can always find another barber, but you can't always find another friend."
Go to Earle "Babe" Tanner, "Pioneer History Index," for further information.
Return to Lowell Biographies.