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Battle Over Barber Poles Spins In Minnesota

Filed by KOSU News in US News.
March 15, 2012

What’s red, white, and blue and has spun its way into controversy? It’s the symbol of the barber profession — the barber pole. The issue is that sometimes the pole rotates outside the shops of cosmetologists or hair stylists who don’t employ barbers. It’s made some barbers across the country unhappy.

Minnesota is the latest state to explore making it illegal to display a barber pole, unless you are a licensed barber. Ken Kirkpatrick is helping lead the charge in the state, and he couldn’t be in a better spot to promote his cause. He cuts the hair of Minnesota politicians in the Capitol Barber Shop, located in the capitol building in St. Paul.

Kirkpatrick has been a barber for around 40 years. He says there’s a lot of history behind the barber pole that needs to be preserved.

“The barber pole has been a symbol for the barbers for many years,” he says.

Each part of the barber pole represents something about the original physician-barbers. Kirkpatrick says the white is for bandages, the blue is for veins and the end cap on today’s pole represents the vessels used to catch the blood. When physicians stopped offering hair cuts and shaves, the barbers kept the pole.

“The barbering practice has been around for 6,000 years,” he says. “And I just think this is something that we need to keep in our profession.”

Kirkpatrick says it’s misleading for shops without a barber to display one of the iconic poles. He compares it to branding around restaurants.

“You know, if you drive down the street and you want to get yourself a hamburger (and) you want McDonalds, you look for the golden arches,” he says. “You don’t go to Burger King if you’re looking for a McDonalds.”

Because of the location of his shop, Kirkpatrick has become a sort of lobbyist for the cause when he cuts the hair of lawmakers.

“It’s just that I’m in the state office building where they do all of the legislation so I get asked a lot of questions about it,” he says.

Kirkpatrick says he’s optimistic the new law will get passed. It’s been received well elsewhere and ten states already have similar laws on the books. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

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