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Langley mayor will cut and run: Gives up barber gig today

Hizzoner is hanging up his scissors.

After 41 years behind the chair and more than 160,000 haircuts, Paul Samuelson will administer his last commercial trims today at his Langley shop.

He wants to concentrate on his day job as full-time mayor of the city.

“I’m going to miss it,” said Samuelson, who had already cut back to two days per week at the shop since becoming mayor last year. “But in these times I have to focus on my city work.”

“I hate to see him stop,” said Langley businessman Gary Piper, who will be the recipient of Samuelson’s last official haircut around 5 p.m. today.

Piper has been getting trims from Samuelson for 30 years.

“I’ll probably just have to let my hair grow,” Piper said. “I told him he might not recognize me in a few months.”

The final cut may not come easy for Samuelson.

“It’s never been a job for me,” he said. “It’s been another form of community service. It’s like going to work and hanging out with my friends all day.”

Samuelson, 59, began his barber career in San Diego, Calif. at age 17. He was a senior in high school and had no interest in attending college.

When he told his father he was drawn to the hair-manipulation business, his father helped him enroll in barber college and made sure he got there every day.

“I thought it would be a great way to earn my way through college, when I decided to go,” Samuelson said. “I still haven’t decided to go.”

Samuelson opened a barbershop in Clinton 31 years ago. A shop in Freeland followed, then one on First Street in Langley.

He shares his current shop in the little village square off Second Street with Beck Paffrath, who has been working with Samuelson for nearly three years.

“We’ve been like family since we met,” Paffrath said. “It’s worked out really well. We sort of complemented each other.”

Samuelson said he will retain ownership of the business, and Patty Thorn of Langley will join Paffrath in the shop.

“I might still show up occasionally to keep my hand in,” Samuelson said.

He said he managed to keep up with changing hairstyles through the years — flattops, buzzcuts, long hair, layers — but his emphasis has always been to maintain the traditional atmosphere of a sanctuary for men.

“I’ve always tried to provide a place for them to gather and express their views and not worry about what they say,” he said. “A place where a group of guys can come and hang out and act stupid.”

Samuelson said that when he started barber college in 1967, there were only two women in his class of about 60 students.

“Now it’s almost impossible to find a traditional male barber,” Samuelson said. “The business is a lot more salon-driven.”

He said he has always enjoyed giving haircuts to children, and at one time dreamed of having a kids-only shop.

“It’s hard for young boys to come into a strange environment and have someone mess with their heads,” he said. “I love kids.”

Marty Matthews of Langley has been getting haircuts from Samuelson for

23 years, and his son Michael, 23, received all his trims from the mayor until leaving the area in 2002.

“I can’t imagine not getting my haircut from Paul,” Matthews said. “It’s not just the haircut, it’s all the talking and kidding around. I might have to get him to do something in my kitchen.”

Samuelson said he will miss the grassroots contact with members of the community that he considers essential for his success in public and professional life.

But most of all, he’ll miss the give-and-take with his customers.

“I love it,” he said. “It’s a wonderful way to spend your life.”

“He’s definitely going to be missed,” Paffrath said. “On Saturdays, when the shop is packed with 20 bantering dudes, it’s very unlike when I’m here.”

A patio barbecue party for Samuelson inside and outside his shop in the Langley Village off Second Street will be from 5 to 7 p.m. tonight. Everyone is welcome, Piper said.

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