BARBER TRADITIONS ARE 4 GENERATIONS STRONG AT VILLAGE BARBER SHOP

Village Barber Shop’s current team of Paula Kellenberger, left, Kyle Freeman and Dee Matlock. ALEX RICKERT/Keys Weekly

Kyle Freeman may be the newest barber at Marathon’s Village Barber Shop. But his family’s been in the business longer than just about anyone in town.

The Freemans’ Marathon hair-cutting legacy spans four generations and nearly seven decades, when Kyle’s great-grandfather Verbon “Verb” Freeman established Verb’s Barber Shop in 1955. In his book “A Sailor’s Dream Fulfilled,” Verb recounts stories of his shop as a social center on 26th Street in Marathon, including near-brawls over the subject of smoking in his shop and a recounting of the time he was accidentally stiffed by Harry S. Truman on a haircut – by Verb’s account, the former president had taken laxatives and was understandably in quite the hurry to leave.

The penchant for hairstyles continued to the next generation with the opening of Village Barber Shop in the mid-1980s, run by Kyle’s grandparents Bruce and Norma Freeman. Originally established in the building currently housing Doc’s Tattoos in Marathon, the shop moved just down the road with the construction of Gulfside Village. 

“Anybody that’s been here forever probably got their first haircut at one of these shops,” said fellow shop cosmetologist Paula Kellenberger. Her statement was confirmed seconds later by the customer in her chair during Keys Weekly’s interview: 98-year-old Pauline Lightfoot, who remembered her husband’s trips to Verb’s shop in the ’70s.

Three generations of barbers: Bruce Freeman, left, and his son Mike Freeman give Verb Freeman a haircut. CONTRIBUTED

In addition to giving haircuts, Norma was known for the ceramics lining the shop, an art she practiced and taught to local children in the shop’s back rooms. For Kyle, the entire shop has always been a vivid memory from his childhood.

“I’ve got a picture sitting in that exact chair getting my first haircut from my grandfather,” the younger Freeman said with a smile, pointing to the chair where his own tools now sit.

A graduate of Marathon High School, Freeman and his wife Kaleila moved back to Marathon in April 2021 following two years in Indiana. 

“My favorite part of the year was always the summers down here, diving and working with my dad at (Freeman Auto Repair) for a bit,” he said. “We just have so much family down here and history down here; my wife and I met here when we were in high school.”

Without a clear career direction at first, he decided to follow his family’s tradition and enrolled for 1,200 hours of training to earn his master barber certification at the Miami Barber’s Institute. Now, returning to the shop he remembers so well from his childhood, Kyle is eager to bring a different skillset to the customers in his chair.

“In Miami we did a lot of fades, so I’m better with using machines and short hairstyles,” he said. “We started doing hot towel shaves, ear waxes, nose waxes, stuff like that that we’d never done before.”

Visit Village Barber Shop in Marathon’s Gulfside Village Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. or on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon.

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Alex Rickert made the perfectly natural career progression from dolphin trainer to newspaper editor in 2021 after freelancing for Keys Weekly while working full time at Dolphin Research Center. A resident of Marathon since 2015, he fell in love with the Florida Keys community by helping multiple organizations and friends rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Irma. An avid runner, actor, and spearfisherman, he spends as much of his time outside of work on or under the sea having civil disagreements with sharks.