weather icon Clear
RJ App
Vegas News, Alerts, ePaper

New highway trims old-school Las Vegas barber shop

Driving by the corner of Oakey Boulevard and Western Avenue, a shortcut to the newspaper, makes me sad.

Oakey Center once was a happenin’ place where movers and shakers mixed with blue-collar types. Now it’s vacant, except for the New Image barber shop and Kelly’s bar. The parking lot is so empty gunslingers could shoot it out without hitting any townsfolk.

Oakey Center will be bulldozed once these last two businesses leave.

It would be easy to blame the demise of this once flourishing center on Project Neon, the Nevada Department of Transportation’s $1.5 billion upgrade of 3.7 miles of Interstate 15 between Sahara Avenue and the Spaghetti Bowl interchange. The project requires the Oakey Center site and land from many other area businesses.

But the decline really began in 1998, when Poppa Gar’s restaurant closed after a 33-year run. The comfort food restaurant opened by Garland Miner in 1965 was a magnet for the good old boys of Las Vegas. “More deals were made over there than were made at City Hall and the county,” laughed New Image owner Randy Benefiel.

Many of the lawmen, politicians and businessmen would eat at Poppa Gar’s and stop for a haircut next door at New Image.

Benefiel and barbers Jon “The Chopper” Holten and Elmer Yahne are a three-man operation at the barber shop that opened more than 50 years ago. “We were vibrant,” said Holten. “We were full every day.”

When I visited last week, customers were still coming in, fighting construction traffic to get there. Mark Miscevic, a 20-year customer and co-founder of Americana Group Realtors, sat in Holten’s chair for a haircut and a beard trim.

When the shop opened in 1965, a haircut cost $1.75. Today that haircut is $14.

Miscevic is not sad the center will be bulldozed to make it easier and safer to use Interstate 15. “It’s part of a town growing. It’s better than a town dying or a town getting smaller.”

Former Nevada Gov. and U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan is a longtime customer of Benefiel’s. “I’ll stay with him as long as I have hair,” Bryan laughed. Like Miscevic, Bryan soon will take his business to the shop’s new location, about a mile away at 2800 W. Sahara Ave. The move is expected to take place in September.

Some of their customers’ names are familiar if you’ve lived here a decade or three. Former Review-Journal Editor Don Digilio quit going to the shop when the price of a haircut went up a quarter. Former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman. Retired District Judge Donald Mosley. Poker player Puggy Pearson. Actor Pat Morita. The late media mogul Jim Rogers. Attorney John O’Reilly.

They’d sit in one chair and a construction worker might be in the one next to them. And in the barbershop tradition, they’d all talk. “Some would say Bryan was the only Democrat they’d ever vote for,” Benefiel recalled.

The barber shop is one of 60 businesses that Project Neon will relocate.

Benefiel said Project Neon is paying about $60,000 to move his barber shop.

Through June, NDOT has spent more than $9.1 million on moving, storage and re-establishment costs to relocate businesses displaced by Project Neon, said NDOT spokesman Tony Illia. An additional 20 businesses still need to be relocated.

Project Neon’s land acquisition and property management costs through June exceeded $172 million, Illia said.

The realty company that represented Oakey Center was paid more than $6 million for the land.

Benefiel, 65, and Holten, 76, enjoyed talking about the good old days when the center hustled and bustled, but they’re not wedded to their location, which has been fading for several years. They’re fine with starting anew.

Like me, they see downtown’s stretch of I-15 as a death trap for drivers.

Nostalgia is fine, but being able to drive without crashing or dying on the interstate is better.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column runs Thursdays. Leave messages for her at 702-383-0275 or email jmorrison@reviewjournal.com. Find her on Twitter: @janeannmorrison

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Cab riders experiencing no-shows urged to file complaints

If a cabbie doesn’t show, you must file a complaint. Otherwise, the authority will keep on insisting it’s just not a problem, according to columnist Jane Ann Morrison. And that’s not what she’s hearing.

Are no-shows by Las Vegas taxis usual or abnormal?

In May former Las Vegas planning commissioner Byron Goynes waited an hour for a Western Cab taxi that never came. Is this routine or an anomaly?

Columnist shares dad’s story of long-term cancer survival

Columnist Jane Ann Morrison shares her 88-year-old father’s story as a longtime cancer survivor to remind people that a cancer diagnosis doesn’t necessarily mean a hopeless end.

Las Vegas author pens a thriller, ‘Red Agenda’

If you’re looking for a good summer read, Jane Ann Morrison has a real page turner to recommend — “Red Agenda,” written by Cameron Poe, the pseudonym for Las Vegan Barry Cameron Lindemann.

Las Vegas woman fights to stop female genital mutilation

Selifa Boukari McGreevy wants to bring attention to the horrors of female genital mutilation by sharing her own experience. But it’s not easy to hear. And it won’t be easy to read.

Biases of federal court’s Judge Jones waste public funds

Nevada’s most overturned federal judge — Robert Clive Jones — was overturned yet again in one case and removed from another because of his bias against the U.S. government.

Don’t forget Jay Sarno’s contributions to Las Vegas

Steve Wynn isn’t the only casino developer who deserves credit for changing the face of Las Vegas. Jay Sarno, who opened Caesars Palace in 1966 and Circus Circus in 1968, more than earned his share of credit too.

John Momot’s death prompts memories of 1979 car fire

Las Vegas attorney John Momot Jr. was as fine a man as people said after he died April 12 at age 74. I liked and admired his legal abilities as a criminal defense attorney. But there was a mysterious moment in Momot’s past.