Stepping into Bill Ammons’ Pacific Barber Shop in Kelso is like stepping back in time.
One wall is plastered with photos of Cowlitz County’s history and notable visitors to Ammons’ shop. The barber’s station takes up the other side of the shop. The large vintage barber’s chair is set in front of two large mirrors that are framed by turquoise tile.
A nameplate hangs above each mirror, one for Ammons and one for his late father, Bert Ammons, who opened the shop at 308 South Pacific Ave. in 1933.
Ammons, 76, is selling the shop after working there for 57 years. He said his health has declined and he can no longer keep up with the work.
“I’ve had a good ride here,” Ammons said Wednesday. “It’s hard. This has been my life since 1962, but the time comes when you have to pull the plug.”
Although he is stepping away from the barber shop, Ammons said he will continue helping the community through efforts including his food and coat drives.
“That’s who I am, a guy who really likes to help people,” he said. “That’s my passion.”
Ammons was born and raised in Kelso, though he now lives in Castle Rock. He said after graduating, he was longshoring in Alaska when his father asked him to come work in the barber shop.
“I didn’t really want to do it, but I felt like I needed to do it,” Ammons said. “I would’ve been better off longshoring, but I wanted to honor my dad’s wishes.”
So he began working in the shop in 1962 and took over when his father retired. Bert Ammons died in 1977. His son said he hasn’t raised the price of a haircut from $4 since then.
But Ammons said he couldn’t make a living solely as a barber, so he took up roofing and painting houses.
In the early 1990s, Ammons’ wife, Patti Ammons, opened her own barber shop next door to her husband’s that caters to children as well as adults.
Ammons said now he is mostly retired and only working at his shop once or twice a week. Although he only averages about eight haircuts per week, Ammons said he still enjoys commuting to Kelso.
“I don’t just want to be at home. I like coming here to talk with people,” he said.
Much of that talk revolves around politics. Ammons has been active in Kelso and Cowlitz County politics for decades.
He said many of his remaining customers stop in for conversation as well as a trim.
On Wednesday afternoon, five men got haircuts from Ammons, including Elton Strange, who has been patronizing the shop since 1991.
The barber shop has also been a base for Ammons’ many notable fundraisers throughout the years.
Ammons began holding food drives for Lower Columbia CAP’s Help Warehouse more than 15 years ago. He also started a Brown Bag Lunch Day, when he and other volunteers gather and distribute thousands of sandwiches to the needy.
The Ammonses also have collected backpacks for school children and held multiple coat drives.
In 2013, Ammons coordinated the first Day of Kindness in Cowlitz County, encouraging people to exhibit kindness on any scale.
David Futcher, who’s been a Kelso city councilman for about 14 years, said over the years he’s seen Ammons give customers free haircuts or even a free haircut and a couple of dollars.
“Bill’s absolutely been a friend to the people who need it in South Kelso,” Futcher said.
Futcher said he will remember Ammons operated his shop with a passion for taking care of people who need it, as well as a passion for local sports figures.
“That (the shop) has been an anchor of downtown Kelso for decades,” he said. “We’ll miss that presence, but I’m excited to see what the new owner has in mind and to see what kind of development will happen.”
Ammons said he isn’t looking for much money from the shop sale and the old building may even need to be torn down. But running the shop has allowed him to be heavily involved in the community.
“I’ve been able to do incredible things. ... I tell people every day, you’ll get such a feeling helping people.”