The business Al Galedrige built is older than Los Altos itself. He opened Al’s Barber Shop in 1948 – four years before Los Altos was incorporated.
But no one can claim that Galedrige cut his career short by retiring last week at age 88.
The Los Altos resident sheared his last strand of hair this month – 67 years after opening the downtown shop now run by Greg Giedt. There was no grand exit: Galedrige simply posted a handwritten thank-you note on the door at 365 Central Plaza.
Although retirement will allow him to spend more time on the golf course and in the garden with his wife, Carol, Galedrige admitted that he would miss his regulars. One haircut at a time, he’s witnessed boys grow into men and has made many friends along the way.
“It has been a pleasure serving the city of Los Altos and the most wonderful customers in the world,” he wrote in the note.
The end of an era
While the downtown has changed over the years, with the small-town feel giving way to upscale shops and restaurants, the striped barbershop pole remains out front as an invitation to those in need of a trim – or even a buzz cut. The furnishings inside the shop have changed some, but not the antique barbershop chairs featuring thick tan leather covers and metal foot stands with intricate metal castings.
Adding a sense of nostalgia, Galedrige and Giedt use a brass cash register for transactions. Memorabilia from World War II cover the shop walls – Galedrige served in the U.S. Navy during the war – and photos of patrons add a personal touch.
Galedrige studied to become a barber soon after returning from the Battle of Iwo Jima. After learning his trade in San Francisco, he secured employment at one of the three barbershops in Los Altos in the 1940s. When the opportunity arose, Galedrige purchased the barbershop on Main Street in which he worked. Al’s Barber Shop was born.
Galedrige groomed hair full time until 14 years ago, when he sold his shop to Giedt, who moved the business to Central Plaza. A second-generation barber, Giedt does a “good cut of hair,” according to Galedrige.
Sitting comfortably in one of the barber chairs with his feet propped up, Galedrige reminisced last week about his customers. Although he’s given more hair cuts and shaves than he can count, Galedrige won’t soon forget the conversations he’s had with prominent Silicon Valley executives, lawyers, doctors and community leaders. While talking politics, war memories and lighter subjects like fishing, Galedrige noted that he’s cut the hair of the late David Packard, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard; Bill Krause, philanthropist and former 3Com CEO; and the late Sen. Alan Cranston.
Although Galedrige will miss his job, he’ll be back at the shop occasionally – for a trim.
He said he left his contact information for patrons and anticipates sharing a joke or two with those who miss the “million jokes” he told standing behind the barber chair.
Al Galedrige retires from Al's Barber Shop - Photos by Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier