Goodbye to a wonderful barber

Fred of the Noyes Boys has died, the Daily reports. Manfred Booge of the Noyes Street Barber Shop was 74 and one of my favorite people in Evanston. He and son Manny ran an amazing shop, one that flew by word of mouth in the first weeks of freshman year and then kept you coming back by appointment for the rest of your time in the city. 

I’d try to describe how Fred ran the shop, but Justin Conroy did so just fine for the Daily in ’99. The brief’s stuck with me because Manny later e-mailed for the text. Sparing you my fanboy reply, here’s Conroy: 

Entering the establishment at 916 Noyes St. is like entering a whole new world: the multi-colored barber’s pole, old-fashioned barber chairs, the smell of fresh after-shave, the sounds of 1930s music. Not to mention the barbers, who sport classic Johnny Unitas crew cuts and practice their art with detailed and cautious movements. For 20 minutes you step out of the hectic world of classes and into the calm confines of an old-style barber shop… And for $11, you can get the smoothest haircut you’ve  ever had. 

Yes, the greatest haircut in Chicagoland was $11. You felt good after.

You always came back from the shop with a story, about the greatness of the straight-edge razor, about old times in the neighborhood, about the conversation that jumped off the radio. Just looking through old e-mail, there was the time Nate waited for Fred to get back from surgery, the time Manny and I talked about Halloween laws and sod for half an hour, the times Amit came home with stock tips, the time the barbers remembered him when someone mentioned him to them a year after graduation, the later time he dreamed about Fred, Manny and a third barber singing, the time Fred and I talked about grubs and it took me forever to realize they were a lawn problem and not a heart condition.

Fred had a gentle manner but a professional touch with the scissors and razors, and the shop’s appointment book in a way channeled who he was and how he ran his business. You felt you had a place there.

Evanston’s fortunate Manny has so many of his dad’s great qualities and has added his own style to the mix. I link Sara Peck’s Daily story again and quote the lede because I want you to read it that much.

On the last Saturday of his life, Fred Booge did what he had done for the past 55 years: He went to work at the Noyes Street Barber Shop.

Though he had retired six years earlier and passed the shop’s ownership to his son, Manny, the German-American barber continued to work every Friday and Saturday, even when a broken pelvis confined him to a walker. The last haircut he gave that day was to a Northwestern alumnus — one of the regulars — who brought his young son along. While Fred snipped and shaved, Manny cut the little boy’s hair on his final day of work with his father.

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