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Dec. 5, 2020

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Arlo’s Barber Shop’s new Uptown site a cut above

Longtime business moves after after building torn down last month

By , Columbian business reporter
Published:
8 Photos
Arlo’s Barber Shop owner Bob Lutz is pictured at the new shop location in Uptown Vancouver on Friday.
Arlo’s Barber Shop owner Bob Lutz is pictured at the new shop location in Uptown Vancouver on Friday. Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian Photo Gallery

It’s only been a week since the big move, but the staff at Arlo’s Barber Shop in downtown Vancouver are quickly settling into their new home.

It’s the first move in the 43-year history of the shop, which bills itself as the oldest in downtown Vancouver. But it’s the fifth business move for owner Bob Lutz, 78, who has worked as a barber in Vancouver for more than 60 years.

“I don’t care to move again,” he said.

It’s unlikely he’ll need to. The new shop location was selected with assistance from the landlord at the prior location, the Al Angelo Co., and it gave Lutz and his fellow barber James Howell a chance to design the new space from the ground up, with a new configuration that they say will continue to serve it well in a changing industry landscape.

Moving day

The shop was previously located in a strip mall on East 15th Street, near the intersection with C Street. That entire block was torn down on Aug. 23, the first step in a project by the Al Angelo Co. to build a new office tower at the site. But nearly all of the tenants are still around.

Record store Everybody’s Music and repair shop I-5 Computers joined Arlo’s at another Al Angelo commercial property at 1801 D St., about three blocks north of the original building. Davies Cremation and Burial Service ended up across the street at 301 E. McLoughlin Blvd.

Another tenant, Firefly Atelier Hair Salon, landed in Hazel Dell at 6309 N.E. Highway 99. And the FedEx shop relocated to the ground floor of the nearby Al Angelo headquarters building at 400 Mill Plain Blvd.

Lutz and multiple other business owners from the original building all credited the Al Angelo Co. for working to relocate them to alternate company properties before the office tower project got underway.

“They helped everybody move up here,” Howell said. “We could’ve just been demolished, and that would be the end of it.”

Customers have reacted positively to the new space, Howell said, and most of them have been able to find it easily. Every move causes the loss of a small percentage of customers, Lutz says, but there have already been new walk-ins from the surrounding Arnada neighborhood.

Modern, yet classic

The old Arlo’s shop had five barber stations, but the new shop pares it down to just two — one for owner Lutz and one leased by Howell, plus a hair-washing station.

The reduction allowed for an open floor plan that makes the new shop look more spacious despite having roughly the same 750-square-foot area. It also has a more outdoor feel — instead of staring at walls, customers now get a view of the surrounding neighborhood through the floor-to-ceiling windows on the shop’s western side.

Lutz said the goal was to modernize the shop while also recapturing more of the look and feel of a vintage barbershop from the time when Lutz got his start in the industry.

That included cutting back slightly on the product lineup, according to Lutz and Howell, in order to focus more on basic haircuts.

Lutz said the simplification of the shop ties in with an overall trend in the industry, which is seeing a resurgence of men’s barbershops with a more old-school feeling.

It’s a reversal of the trend Lutz said he’s seen throughout most of his career, where barbershops were constantly adding new technology and styling options, overlapping more with beauty salons.

“It has changed, but now it kind of went back around out of the beauty end of it,” he said.

60-year history

The shop’s namesake is Lutz’s longtime friend and fellow barber Arlo Ritenburgh. Ritenburgh, 79, retired more than a decade ago, but Lutz says he still drops by the shop from time to time, and he and Lutz are still each other’s go-to barbers.

Lutz said he’d dreamed of becoming a barber since age 8, and he got his chance at just 16 years old when he dropped out of high school and enrolled in a barber school program. After graduating, he worked as an instructor at the school until he got a job at Galen’s Barber Shop in downtown Vancouver.

Lutz taught Ritenburgh during his time as an instructor, and Ritenburgh later joined him at Galen’s. A photo on the wall at the modern Arlo’s shop shows Ritenburgh, Lutz and shop owner Galen Golden standing by their station chairs at the shop in the early 1960s.

Lutz took over as owner of the shop after Galen decided to leave the industry, renaming it Bob’s Barber Shop. Ritenburgh and another employee eventually decided to split off and founded Arlo’s Barber Shop in 1976.

Lutz’s shop went through a couple of moves, eventually landing at the Scofield’s Corner commercial center at East 18th and Main streets, where it remained for more than 30 years.

In 2004 Lutz decided to sell the store, although it wasn’t quite a retirement. He didn’t want to continue managing such a large business, he said, but he did want to continue cutting hair. So he turned to his longtime friend Ritenburgh, and began working as a barber at Arlo’s.

But Lutz’s renunciation of an ownership role didn’t last long. Just a few months later, Ritenburgh announced that he planned to sell the shop and retire, and Lutz said it became clear that he was the best candidate to keep the business operating.

He agreed to take over the shop and has continued to operate it for the past 15 years, but at a slightly smaller scale, usually with just two or three active stations instead of four or five.

Howell, 52, joined the shop in 2012. He said the barber industry was a career change for him; he got his license in 2009 after previously working in graphic design.

The shop has retained the Arlo’s name and branding even though Arlo himself no longer works there, and Lutz and Howard said they have no plans to change that.

“It’s first in the alphabet,” Lutz said. It’s also a good name, he added, and one that sounds right for a classic barbershop.

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