after South Land Park barber Woodie Sommers turned
95 early last month, I asked him a question that he’s
probably getting tired of hearing, to wit: “So,
how about it? Are you getting ready to retire now?”
Sommers, who’s been cutting hair in Sacramento for more than seven decades,
unfurled a kind of distant look and let a few seconds pass before coming up with
“Well I don’t know for sure,” he said. “It all depends.” On
what? I wondered aloud. “Well,” he allowed, “I might try to
put my business up for sale at the end of the month.” I pointed out that
the month—February—was just about over. “Oh, any month will
do, maybe next month, we’ll see,” he put it. as a clear invitation
to bring this particular subject to its end.
The truth is that at an age when most folks have already been retired for three
decades or more, Sommers remains very good at what he does and enjoys doing it
much too much to think seriously about retiring. He’d be quick to admit
that he’s not as limber as he was, say, at age 85. “But I’ve
always enjoyed cutting hair and talking with the customers,” he said. “It’s
what keeps me going.”
For the past 35 years, Sommers has been cutting hair
at his own shop on the mezzanine of a supermarket
in a small shopping mall at South Land Park Drive
and Del Rio
Road, just south of the verdant acres of Land Park.
A native of Idaho, Sommers and his family moved to Sacramento in the early
1930s. He helped other family members operate a grocery store and finally settled
barbering as his own lifetime career. He looked on haircutting as a common
sense approach to the unemployment that plagued Sacramento and the rest of
in the 1930s. “It looked like a reasonable way to earn a living.” he
said. “After you cut the hair, you could always count on it to grow back.”
He worked for several other barbers for a time, but finally opened his own
shop at Broadway and 28th Street after World War II. During the war, he had
four years with the Army corps of engineers in Europe and the Pacific.
Some of Sommers’ customers followed him to the Land Park location when
he moved his barbershop from Broadway 35 years ago. One of them, Robert Vincent,
a 79-year-old retired civil engineer who lives in Campus Commons, is still a
Sommers regular. He had his first Woodie Sommers haircut in 1948. In the years
since then, he figures he’s missed his favorite barber only about five
times, usually because Sommers was indisposed and unable to work.
“Before I retired, I used to get a haircut every two weeks,” Vincent
said, “and now I still come in every three weeks. “I’ve always
enjoyed our conversations about sports, particularly when the Sacramento Solons
were in town, and also college football and world affairs.” He noted that
Sommers, a devout Mormon, has a high code of personal ethics. “He is a
wonderful family man,” Vincent said. “really a great role model
in every way.”
Woodie and his wife, Arline, have been married 56 years. They have one daughter
who lives with her family in El Dorado Hills, the scene of a family gathering
last month to mark the patriarch’s 95th birthday. Sommers also was taken
out to dinner by his long-time landlord, Dr. Herbert Yee, a dentist who for
decades has also been a leader of the local Chinese Benevolent Association.
As the years have rolled on, Sommers has never flinched from his working dress
code of wearing a tie at all times when he’s wielding his barbering tools.
With more than 100 ties at home, Sommers said he views this particular article
of clothing as “a sign of respect. “If you don’t have a tie,
you don’t even respect yourself.” he insisted.” I subconsciously
vowed to seek some way to reform my own long-time post-retirement abstinence
from ties, which I now wear about as often as snow falls on Sacramento.
Sommers said he sometimes thinks about retirement whenever his birthdays roll
around. He currently puts in a working schedule of four days a week, Tuesday
to Friday, usually from about 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. He gave up the full-time, 40-hours
per week routine about 20 years ago.
In 2002, he tentatively announced his retirement and then changed his mind,
saying he simply wasn’t quite ready. The next day, he was back on duty
again at his barber chair.
Sommers has received sporadic local and national media attention as he has
continued working well into the 10th decade of his life. But he concedes that
is something he still thinks about.
Whenever the time finally comes, he said he’d probably enjoy giving full-time
attention to his garden, his favorite free-time avocation. “But for the
time being, I’ll take it one month at a time,” he said. “We’ll
see what happens.”