The Artful BarberHe looks like Ernest Hemingway, he cuts hair like nobody's business, and he's an accomplished illustrator who was friends with Charles M. Shultz. Yep, Ron Thomas is a total character.
By Maryal Miller
Phoenix To really get a feel for who Ron Thomas is — a 68-year-old Phoenix barber whose very being hearkens back to the days of Mayberry — throw on some Motown and kick back with a long-neck bottle of Coke. Good, isn't it? A classic always is. It's pure and unadulterated, recalling a time when life was a little simpler. The same could be said of this Hemingway look-alike, who's as refreshing as the old familiar scent of Pinaud powder that lingers nostalgically on his stalwart hands.
"Back at my first shop in the early '60s, my partner and I wore suits with houndstooth slacks — the whole getup," Thomas laughs. "That was pretty authentic. I've changed things up a bit, but my methods are exactly the same."
Honoring the fundamentals of yesteryear, Thomas keeps his practice old school, as one of the last masters of the straight-razor barbering profession. At his small shop in central Phoenix, dubbed Occam's Edge Haircutters (after William of Ockham), Thomas has trimmed and shaved some of the city's most notable personalities. And he's been doing so for the last four decades, in 45-minute, full-service appointments (shoeshine included), free of any electric assistance, with one of the only women allowed inside the gentleman's guild — his man-manicurist Betty — by his side. "Hey, important men need good-looking hands," she quips.
Although Thomas seldom reveals what goes down inside the man cave, he will divulge a few juicy tidbits. Jerry Colangelo's a longtime client and friend (Thomas attended his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame). "I was right here when Jerry fired Wally [Backman]," Thomas says of the former Diamondbacks' manager. Terry Goddard was at Occam's before he was mayor. Thomas misses Cotton Fitzsimmons "like hell," and many of the Phoenix 40 were regulars at the shop. Impressed yet?
If not, consider that at a time when many barbers, no matter the style, are begging for business, Thomas has the privilege of keeping his shop obscure, free of the classic candy-cane pole outside, working on a strict, referral-only basis, with a robust client roster. No, he doesn't chase youngsters away hollering "hooligans," but most of his clients are older, loyal, and have visited since their adolescence — some with weekly standing appointments.
Oh, and Ron's also a seasoned angler, a talented artist working on his fifth book of illustrations, a collector (the walls are covered with original memorabilia any historical museum would envy), and he even won the famous Ernest Hemingway Look-Alike Contest in Key West in 2002. Kind of makes you wonder: What have I done lately?