The original owner of the Twain Harte Family Barber Shop had some sobering words for Dennis Scroggs on the day he purchased the downtown business: “You know you’re not going to make it up here, kid.”
That was 40 years ago, and Scroggs has been proving him wrong every day since.
“Maybe I never ‘made it,’ but I’m still here,” said Scroggs, 66.
He said the secret to his business’s longevity is simple: Be there. His barber shop is open during regular business hours, rain or shine, drizzle or blizzard. He even makes hair-cutting house calls for customers who are too old or sick to come downtown.
“Some people close up early if there are no customers, and they miss out on a few here and there,” he said. “It makes a difference.”
He bought the barber shop in 1971 for $5,000, which he said was far more than the business was worth at the time. At that time a haircut cost just $2.
Originally from Salinas, Scroggs was an avid skier in his youth and wanted to move to the foothills to become a ski instructor. He saw an ad in the Salinas paper in 1966 for a barber in Twain Harte, and the rest is history.
“I thought I could cut hair up here and become a famous ski instructor,” he said.
He had worked at the barber shop for five years as a second-chair barber before he bought out the original owner, Ken Bingham, who started the business in 1962. Scroggs was a nervous wreck said the day he opened the business on his own, and it took two years before he could establish himself in the community.
In those early years, his business consisted mostly of cutting the hair of out-of-towners during the tourist season, but he eventually built up a large clientele of local regulars.
Scroggs never became a famous ski instructor, but he is certainly a celebrity in Twain Harte.
“I’m really proud that I’ve been here this long,” he said.
He has seen four generations of Tuolumne County customers over the years. People who came to him as children are now bringing their grand-children to sit in the very same barber chair.
Scroggs has seen styles evolve somewhat over the years, but many of the classics are still popular. He said flat-tops were popular in the early 1960s while long hair became more prevalent in the 1970s.
“A lot of barbers went out of business during then,” he said.
He said longer hairstyles are coming back into vogue, but he isn’t worried and often has a line of customers waiting for ‘dos.
Scroggs operates the barber shop on Joaquin Gully with the help of Bob Swartz, who has worked there for 25 years, and Geno Hernandez, who has worked there for 13 years.
Scroggs has survived multiple bouts of cancer and spent nearly a year undergoing treatment at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center.
“Every time I start to fret about something, I think about leaving the house to go to the hospital,” he said. “Then I think that it’s not such a bad day after all.”
Scroggs has two grown sons, six grandchildren and four ex-wives. In his spare time he likes to restore hotrod cars and owns a 1951 Chevy pickup, which he still drives to work most days. He is an avid hunter and has a prized antelope hanging from the wall in his shop.
He has been a member of the Twain Harte Rotary Club for 37 years and he helped build some of the sidewalks that run down the town’s main streets.
The barber shop is open Tuesday through Friday during regular business hours, and, true to form, Scroggs is there most of the time.
“People ask me when I’m going to retire and I tell them I only have 32 more years to go,” said Scroggs, who will be 98 years old when that day comes.