Don Burgin, 75, has lived in the lakes area since June of 1943 and as such has seen how the community has grown over the past 65-plus years. He is able to remember a simpler time when everybody knew each other’s name and when you didn’t have to lock your doors. His barbershop, which has been family-owned since 1959, is a reflection of that time. His customers have become his friends, and they all gather in the barbershop to chat and socialize. But now after 43 years of cutting hair in Commerce Township, Burgin is hanging up his clippers and retiring. And while he hopes to enjoy milder weather down south, he loves the lakes area and is very grateful for all of his customers.
SCN: You have run and owned a barbershop in Commerce Township for the past 43 years. Please describe a typical day at the barbershop for you.
DB: My typical day at the barbershop is a lot of fun, enjoyment. I’ve always enjoyed my trade. I have a lot of good fellowships every day. And I’m sure going to miss my customers, I tell you. They’ve all been such a blessing to me. There’s not one I would kick out of my barbershop. I’ve been very blessed. The Lord has taken good care of me.
SCN: Being in the area so long, you must have established a loyal clientele. How long has the majority of your customers been coming to you?
DB: Well, I got an awful lot of them that’s been coming for 43 years. Most of them have been coming for quite some time. You get new ones, you know, but again an awful (lot) has been with me here all these years.
SCN: Have you made any particular friends among them? What’s the atmosphere in your barbershop like?
DB: Oh yes, very close friends. Just busy talking, lots of socialability. Sometimes they ask questions about things.
SCN: As a barber, you must have heard many stories. Do you have any that are particular favorites?
DB: Fish stories. I love sports, and I got away from hunting some years ago, but I still talk about it quite a bit. A lot of my customers, they know I like to fish, and they’re always bringing me in some fish. In hunting season, they always bring me in venison. They’ve been pretty good to me.
SCN: Do you still get out to hunt or fish a lot?
DB: I will fish occasionally. When I leave here, I’m going down south, and I expect to do some fishing down there.
SCN: And now you’re finally retiring. How does that feel? What are your plans now that you are retiring?
DB: Well, I don’t know yet. I’ve been doing this for so long. It’s going to be different, I’ll tell you that. Eventually, I hope to get down to Tennessee for the milder weather. And they have very friendly people.
SCN: What will you miss most about your barbershop?
DB: My customers. I probably will get keep in touch with them. I have some really close ones that I will definitely keep in touch with more. I would just like to say thank you to all my customers over the years. They have been so wonderful. And I appreciate every one of them. I appreciate their business.
SCN: You first began cutting hair in 1956. How has your occupation/business changed over the years?
DB: Well, in 1956 — that’s when I was in the service — I first picked up a pair of clippers. And I cut hair aboard ship on the side. I was in the navigation department. And I don’t think basically that barbershops, per se, have changed that much over the years.
SCN: Has it been especially difficult competing with chain establishments? What do you attribute to the success of your business for so many years?
DB: No, not all. Well, I give all my credit to the Lord. I’m a born-again Christian. He’s blessed me all 43 years. He’s always been there with me to help me through it. And I’ve always showed my customers my love and gratitude for being my customers. And I’ve treated my customers very well, I think, over the years. So, that’s what made my success.
SCN: You also served in the Navy. How long did you serve and what was it like? What were your responsibilities?
DB: I served four years. I loved the Navy very much. My job was on the bridge in the navigation department. And I enjoyed the sea. I love the sea. I spent 45 months at sea. I started out in a battle wagon, but they phased those out three months after I went aboard. That was in 1956. And I got on this ship, it’s called a sea-going tug. They went out at sea — during war time they would retrieve ships that lost power, you know. And occasionally we did that. Of course, my time was all peace time. I was in 1956 to 1960. Then, my homeport was Newport, Rhode Island, and we used to pull targets for ships to fire at. They were about 1,100 yards behind us. It was very much enjoyable, and I definitely miss it at times.
SCN: You’ve been in the lakes area for quite some time now. Why did you stay in the area for so long?
DB: Well, I grew up here. I was the last senior class to come out of Walled Lake High School in town, and the first class to come out of Central, which was Walled Lake High School then because we transferred over there after Christmas break in 1955. And so actually, we were the first class to come out of what is now Walled Lake Central — that replaced the Walled Lake High School — the one in town.
I grew up out here. I spent my life fishing on Commerce Lake. I love this area. I did go to Waterford. I worked out there. My brother and I had a barbershop together. This barbershop (in Commerce) here used to belong to my father. And he built this in 1959 when I was still in the Navy. And I wasn’t going to become a barber until I started fooling with it in the service, and I decided to do that. So, when I came out, of course, you have to go to barber college to get your license. So I went through that. And I went through Waterford — well it was Drayton Plains at the time — my brother and I were in partnership there for six years.
My dad decided to retire here. So I bought the shop from him, and I came back home. I’ve always been happy here.
SCN: How has the area changed over the years?
DB: Well, big changes. Nobody was out here back then. Well, we moved out here June 12, 1943. And this area was wilderness. It’s grown up every year. But it was a very wonderful place to grow up in — hunting, fishing right up at your back door, you know.
SCN: What do you miss the most from your childhood that has changed over the years in the area?
DB: I liked it more when it was wilderness — more wilderness, you know — when the population wasn’t like this today. Back then, everybody knew everybody because there wasn’t a lot of houses out here. You knew everybody. It was a very friendly place back then. It still is today. It was a great place to grow up. You could go down to the lake and leave your boat there and go fishing in the morning and leave it there, and nobody would touch it. You can’t do that today. Everything has to be locked up. Back then you didn’t even lock your doors.