Harry Oliver’s journey from his hometown of Fruita took him all across the map, from Denver to the Deep South with a stint in Vietnam in between. That journey ultimately led back to western Colorado, however.
What followed were 52 years as one of the Grand Valley’s most reliable hairstylists, honoring his family’s legacy.
“My dad was a barber and he barbered in Fruita for 50 years,” Oliver said. “My mom’s hair always looked so bad, so I decided I would fix her hair a little bit, then I got a scholarship to a beauty school in Denver. It just went from there.”
Oliver recently called it a career, relinquishing his salons to others and fulfilling a promise to himself. He had always wanted to retire at 70 years old. He officially retired Aug. 28, eight days before his 70th birthday.
The end of his career has made him reflect on how it all began.
“After I got out of beauty school, I was drafted and went to Vietnam for a year, and served in the military for three years,” Oliver said. “I came back and we lived in Louisiana, where we had my daughter. Then we came back to Grand Junction, and that’s where my career started. I’ve worked quite a few different places and a few different salons. I’ve had a lot of employees. I’ve trained a lot of employees. I’ve done a lot of hair in this town for 52 years and it’s been a great, great ride, but it’s time to retire.”
Since his hairstyling career began on the Western Slope, Oliver’s seen styles and trends come and go throughout the years. He credits pop culture movements in the 1970s for one of the most significant surges of his career, as well as the careers of hairstylists across the United States.
“I’ve been through five generations of hair, different types of hair,” Oliver said. “When I first started out, it was just a little old lady and a grandma that would come to the salon. Young kids never went to the salons in the ’60s. Those were the hippie years.
“Then, all of a sudden, things started changing a little bit. The industry changed. When (former Olympic figure skater) Dorothy Hamill got her haircut and Farrah Fawcett and all those came in, it really changed the industry.”
Oliver’s most recent challenge was finding the proper management for the salons he’s leaving behind. Fortunately, he found people he trusts to operate them.
Even in retirement, he doesn’t want his old stomping grounds to lose their longtime loyal customers.
“The whole idea of my retirement was to find somebody to come in and buy my business and take over my salons so my clients can still go without having to worry about finding somebody else,” Oliver said. “I’ve had clients from anywhere to 10-50 years. Very, very, very loyal customers. It’s been an emotional time to get this all taken care of. They’re all happy for me retiring.”
So far, Oliver has spent some of his retirement in Las Vegas. He owns a second home in that city and finally has the time to visit and work on it.
However, he isn’t planning on spending all of his time in the desert. He also plans to volunteer locally to help his fellow Vietnam War veterans, should the COVID-19 pandemic allow it.
“I’ve also thought about doing some volunteer work at the veterans hospital with the Vietnam vets,” Oliver said. “I’ve considered that. We’ll just have to see how this pandemic goes and what I can do to get into it.”