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In The Mercury News

Making the cut, again
Old-fashioned barber opens in a new shop

By Michelle Guido
Mercury News Staff Writer

After 11 months of operating out of a women's beauty salon, Al Galedrige's customers are sure glad to be back in a real, old-fashioned barber shop.
"We spent 11 months in the 'chicken-coop', as I liked to call it,"Galedrige said Saturday of the salon around the corner, where he rented a station while his new shop was under construction. "It was quite an experience, working with 12 women after all these years in a barber shop.  It was a shock to the system."
Al's Barber Shop is a Peninsula instititution with a devoted clientele. 
But it's also a place where some of the icons of Silicon Valley - David Packard and Bill Krause, former chairman and CEO of 3Com, among them - have come for good old barber shop treatment.  And some Valley movers and shakers have even been known to drop a stock tip or two.
Galedrige's partner of 47 years, Louie Piro, retired last year after making some lucrative investments, based on tips from customers over the years.
And Galedrige also managed to 
get in on the action.  Over the years, he listened carefully when customers dropped subtle and not-so-subtle tips.
"I had one of my customers who was doing research on a new drug called Viagra a couple of years ago," said Galedrige, 74. "He told me about it and I got in on it when the (drug company's) stock was selling for $52 a share. Well, just about right away, it went to $150 (a share) and split three-for-one."
Galedrige's shop closed last year when the building he had been in for 52 years on Main Street in Los Altos was torn down.  His new home, which Al and new partner Greg Giedt returned to a couple weeks ago, is in the back of the new building. 
Galedrige's regulars feel right at home in the new shop, which is nearly a mirror image of the old one. Galedrige had a cabinetmaker replicate his cabinets, and his 85-year-old barber chairs followed him from the old store to the new one.
Mark Cobot, 34, started coming to the shop more than 25 years ago with his dad.
On Saturday, Cabot and his wife, Krissy, brought in their sons, Johnny, 5, and Jake, 3 for haircuts.  And they're expecting another child in June ... a boy.  So for Galedrige, that means another customer.
Johnny and Jake Cabot are regular customers at Al's.  Their 
favorite part of the haircut - apart from the Tootsie Roll they get at the end - is Galedrige's "Magic Spray from Disneyland."
Skeptics would say that it's just water.  But the looks on Jake and Johnny's faces would prove them wrong.
Galedrige's old shop was built in 1923, and he's fond of telling customers that when he first started out in 1946, guys used to come down to the shop on horseback and tie them up to the hitching post out front. Back then, he charged $1 for a haircut.  Now, it's $17.
Galedrige warns that barber shops on the whole are on the verge of extinction.  That's why he didn't retire when the shop was torn down last year. 
"I figure this town should have at least one real, old fashioned barber shop," he said, noting that there used to be five barber shops  in the small town. "I've been working on four generations of customers now.  When we hit the fifth generation, I think I'll start thinking about retirement."


Al's Barber Shop is located at 365 Plaza Central in downtown Los Altos.  Appointments are not taken.  The number is (650) 947-4944.
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Contact Michelle Guido at mguido@sjmercury.com or (650) 688 7590.