Oct. 16, 2006

Fran Stein's former barber shop building no more

By Ryan Gueningsman
Managing Editor

It wasn’t arson, but with the lighting of a torch by Fran Stein and Bob Van Lith, a familiar part of Delano’s landscape went up in flames the evening of Oct. 8.

Stein, the former owner of the barber shop building, and Van Lith, the Delano Fire Chief, joked with each other as they were walking out of the building they had just started on fire.

“I told him I had changed my mind,” Stein said with a smile. “I told Bob I wanted it back.”

In a matter of minutes, there was no turning back, and River Street in Delano became a fiery spectacle for many onlookers out on a Sunday evening. Stein, who had sold the building to the city last year, said he was glad to see it go, and not saddened by the event.

“The building was in dire straits,” Stein said, over lunch last week at Dave’s Town Club. He noted there were problems with the building’s foundation and its roof.

He said the building that housed his barber shop dates back to the 1880s, with the north part of the building being added in 1917. He said it was originally a hook and ladder company. In the 1920s and early 1930s, Stein said the building housed a sheet metal shop, and in 1932, Stein’s father, Armand, set up his barber shop.

“He barbered in there from 1932 to 1978, when he retired,” Stein said. “I started there in 1967.”

He recalled other businesses that had been in the north part of the building, including Bartlett and Kiefer’s Bar, Tauges Mortuary, a television and radio shop, a jewelry shop, a sport shop, and Art Russek’s propane gas shop.

In 1984, Stein bought the complex, selling the north side to the Putkammer Insurance Agency. After that, Intercom Technology was housed there for a time, as well.

In May 2005, the city purchased the property from Stein, and he began plans to relocate to his new location in the city’s downtown development area, right across from the city hall.

“I can’t put into words how nice it is,” Stein said about his new location.

That doesn’t mean Stein doesn’t have some interesting memories from his days on River Street.

He recalled one day in the 1970s when he had a customer in his shop who was waiting in line to get his hair cut. The customer asked Stein if he could keep his place in line while he ran across the street to the bakery. Stein said he could, so the gentleman walked across the street.

Stein said, to this day, he remembers watching the man, and knew what he was going to try. A large truck was approaching where the man was standing, from the south, and the man walked out in front of the truck, causing the truck to swerve and drive on the wrong side of the road to miss hitting him.

The man walked back into Stein’s shop, and said “Did you see me make that truck go around me?”

One other time, the same man tried the same thing, but ended up getting hit by a car.

“He was quite the character,” Stein said.

Stein also recalled one particular Wednesday in the 1970s that sticks out in his mind, also. He saw someone who appeared intoxicated get into a car in front of his shop. Several days later, he heard the fire siren being activated, and went outside the shop to see what was going on.

Someone had reported finding a body in the Crow River; Stein said it was the same man he had seen getting into the car. He said the man probably walked down to the river, slipped, fell into it, and drowned.

Stein also remembers being at his shop when the old Delano Movie Theater burned down, in the 1970s.

“There were four or six fire departments in Delano that day,” Stein recalled, as he was able to see the theater burn from his shop. The old theater sat where Dave’s Town Club’s parking lot is today.

A more recent memory for Stein, and one many Americans will also have, is Sept. 11, 2001.

“That day, I will never forget,” Stein said, recalling that Bruce Triplett came into Stein’s shop and told him that terrorists had flown into the Twin Towers.

“I looked at him and said ‘You’re kidding’ . . . then I thought, ‘wait a minute, no one would kid about a thing like that.’”

Now, five years later, with a new location and a new window for Stein to look out to watch the world go by, he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I absolutely love it over here,” he said.

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