OGDEN — Willie Moore loves this town.
“I think Ogden is the greatest place,” Moore said Tuesday, sitting in one of the barber chairs at his Historic 25th Street shop. “This is where I made my living, where I met my wife. Make sure you tell people that Ogden is the place.”
Yes, Moore loves Ogden. And judging by the steady stream of visitors stopping by to see him this week, that feeling is mutual.
“I ain’t never had so many good people in my life come by,” Moore said.
The 91-year-old barber, who has been a fixture in downtown Ogden for decades, will soon be leaving his beloved Junction City for the East Coast. His wife of 65 years, local community leader Betty Moore, died Nov. 19, and now that Moore is alone, he’s moving to Maryland.
“My thing was, as long as they’re together, we can leave them here together,” said his daughter, Carol Moore Scott.
But now that her mother is gone, Scott, who grew up in Ogden and was the first black cheerleader at Ogden High School, will take her father back to Fort Washington, Md., just outside Washington, D.C., where she works as a consultant.
“He doesn’t like it,” Scott admits of the move. “He doesn’t want to leave Ogden. He says, ‘I’ve been here all my life, I can take care of myself.’ But I don’t feel guilty about this, because I know I’m doing what’s best for him.”
As word has spread about Moore’s leaving, all sorts of folks have been dropping by Moore’s Barber Shop, in the old Marion Hotel, to wish him well, take a photo, or perhaps get one final haircut.
When they heard about Moore’s departure, Eddie and Cindy Simone, owners of the Kokomo Club on Historic 25th Street, decided to throw him a party.
“I wanted to honor him,” Cindy Simone said. “He deserves to be honored. He’s an icon, and a lot of people don’t know he’s leaving.”
The festivities begin at 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 15, at the club, 216 Historic 25th St., and will last, they say, as long as Moore can hold out. The Simones say everyone’s invited — well, everyone age 21 and older.
After all, “It is a bar,” Cindy Simone says. “But the kids can stand at the door and wish him well.”
Oh yes, and there will be cake.
“We can’t call it a retirement party, because he thinks he’ll be back,” Cindy Simone said. “So it’s more of a congrats-on-60-plus-years-in-the-barbering-business party.”
Even at 91, the surprisingly spry Moore still cuts hair six days a week — although now just a few hours a day — at Moore’s Barber Shop on Historic 25th Street.
And not just cutting hair. Telling stories. Plenty of them, about the time he played for the Harlem Globetrotters; or the hair-raising tales about the haircuts he used to give the deceased at the local mortuaries; or the time a visiting Eleanor Roosevelt stuck her head inside the barber shop and said, “Please, you fellas, we need your vote”; or when, as a 16- or 17-year-old, he took his $2.50 to a local brothel (the cheaper girls were $2, he’d saved $2.50) but got kicked out before he could spend his money.
“This street here would beat any street in the world,” Moore says.
When Moore first started barbering, haircuts were 35 cents — not that he made anywhere near that much money. At the time, a haircut apprentice such as himself earned a mere 15 cents a head.
Today, Moore’s haircuts are still a deal. Ogden’s Ron Ross, known to countless Utahns as the children’s television character Fireman Frank, dropped by for a haircut on Tuesday. When Moore finished, he told Ross, “That’ll be $5.”
“He said he was only doing half a cut on me,” Ross said of the inexpensive haircut.
Moore’s eyes well with tears when he talks of the passing of his wife.
“It just killed me, it just killed me,” he kept repeating.
“That is the saddest thing ever,” he told another well-wisher. “That is the saddest thing you’ll ever see. It’s so sad, so sad.”
And then he perks up and talks about a dream he had the other night.
“Two nights ago I was walking with my wife through a flower garden,” he said. “I woke up feeling so good.”
The other barbers at the shop — Lisa Dow, Marsha Rodriguez and Frankie Ortega — say they’ll keep the shop open, and keep the Moore name. They’re even going to hang a photograph of Moore in the shop, so they’re always under his watchful eye.
Through it all, Moore keeps telling everyone he’ll be back. When the young daughter of a friend learns Moore is moving away, she hugs him and begins to cry.
“Oh yeah, you’ll see me again,” he assures her. “We’re gonna have lots of fun when I come back. ... I’ll only be gone a little while.”
Moore’s daughter acknowledges that many in Ogden will miss Willie Moore, but she believes they’ll get over it.
“Everybody here had him for 80 years,” Scott said with a smile. “This is my time now.”