A Little Barbershop History With Larry Roseman
By Sandra Williams
Situated on Fifth Avenue in Spokane’s East Centeral neighborhood, everybody has heard of Larry’s Barbershop, and it has been a staple in the African American community since 1980, something that owner, Larry Roseman, would like to thank the Spokane community for, for patronizing him all of these years and keeping his business thriving.
Cutting hair was nothing new to Larry Roseman when he opened Larry’s, he had been doing it since he was a child in Arkansas. “I’ve always barbered,” he recounted, “when I was a kid, that’s the way I made money, because I was too small to do anything else. All there was to do was picking cotton, so most people that grew up there learned the art of cutting hair.”
It was the Air Force that would bring Larry to Spokane in 1968, during what he says was “the worst snow that Spokane has ever had.” The military also took him away, but after a tour in Viet Nam, and four years of military service, Larry returned to Spokane to be close to his daughter, but also because, he says, “there was too much cotton to pick in Arkansas, and I didn’t want to do that.”
“Once you’re in the military,” Larry added, “most military folks never go back home, because there wasn’t anything in those places for us, which is why we left in the first place, only cotton fields and folks that had their foot on your neck, which was no good.”
Jobs in Spokane were pretty hard to come by in those days, according to Larry, especially if you were a young Black man. “If you weren’t working for Kaiser or the phone company it was pretty bleak.”
Larry worked at Lakeland Village, a local mental health facility, for about six months, but other than that, never really had any jobs. “I was just kind of running in place.”
Larry was about 24 or 25 years old, and had been on an “unassisted vacation,” so to speak. His grandmother was growing impatient.
“My grandmother wanted to know when I was going to get a job, and she said in no uncertain terms, ‘you don’t now nothing but how to cut hair, so why don’t you do that?’ That was the lightbulb for me.”
Larry went to barber college to learn the trade, but when he finished school, he couldn’t get hired in any shops, anywhere. “Folks made a lot of promises, but they didn’t materialize because people were afraid of having an African American barber in their shop.
One man told Larry that he was a great barber and that he would love to have him, but, the man said, “if I bring you in, I’m going to lose all of my customers.” Larry says, he understood that.
A man named Elmer Bogel owned a barbershop on Fifth Avenue and after a good deal of “talking and pursuading” he allowed Larry come in and do the eighteen month apprenticeship that was required in those days before you could become a master barber. “I started here about 1979, did the eighteen months, and then he sold the business to me in 1980.” The two men forged a friendship that lasted until Elmer Bogel passed away. “Bless his soul,” says Larry, “he gave me the opportunity to come into his shop and he shared it with me.”
Owning the barbershop though has also come with its share of challenges. “Some people are not comfortable with too many Blacks in one place. Anywhere that there’s too many Blacks standing or too many Blacks gathering, they feel there has got to be something wrong going on.” More than once, he had to fight with the city about making those kinds of assumptions, especially when the Cop Shop moved in down the street.
But despite dealing with situations like that, Larry says the best thing about owning the barbershop has been working with young African Americans, and in some cases being able to help people that want to go into the profession. He also enjoys being in the shop “when Black folks come in here and talk, because they don’t have to guard what they say, they can feel free.” He laughs, “my language is a little antiquated though, so they come in to talk to these young guys now, but they still feel free.”