School Street was the perfect spot


POSTED: Thursday, October 22, 2009

Before “;location, location, location”; became the site guide for homeowners and businesses, Mary Endo took one look at the corner of Houghtailing and School streets and fell in love with the area. That was more than 50 years ago.

“;I said, 'Wow, this is like where I came from on Maui.' The people were nice, and the traffic was not too much.”;

The young barber was working in downtown Honolulu but quit her job after answering an ad for a School Street barbershop, and after a year, when a new building came up in 1950, she became its first tenant, paying $65 a month for her space.

It was a gutsy move for a 20-something woman, but she said, “;I didn't have money, but I took a chance because when you're working for someone else, you don't get ahead.”;





        » Opened: 1950

» Original and current owner: Mary Endo


» Known for: Haircuts and straight-razor shaves


» Address: 1224 N. School St.


» Phone: 841-5534




To make her rent and have enough to live on, she worked until 9 p.m. each day. “;I never went out. I just worked and worked, just to make a living. If I had a nickel tip, that was something.”;

Mary's Barber Shop has been at 1224 N. School St. ever since, selling shaves and haircuts, originally for 65 and 50 cents, respectively (75 for long hair). Today it's $8 for a shave the old-fashioned way, with a straight razor, and $12 for a haircut.

ALTHOUGH SHE once drew steady business from students at Kamehameha Schools and Damien, these days most of her customers tend to be older.

“;Young people don't go to barbershops,”; she said. “;The only time young people come in for a shave is when they're about to get married, because it's the only way to get a smooth, close shave. It's supposed to last three days.”;

She has modified her practice, having switched to disposable blades instead of using the traditional long blades that required daily sharpening. She also believes hers is the only shop on the island still using a soap-warming machine that helps to add to customers' comfort and pleasure during the shave.

Given her business longevity and affection toward her customers, you'd think Endo was born with a passion for this work, but it started as a necessity. Her family could not afford to send her for higher education to become a teacher or nurse.

“;Those were high-class jobs at the time. A lot of us just went to work or learned a trade. When I was a little girl, my mom said I had to learn a trade so when I grew up I would have something to lean on. When I was 15 my parents sent me to a private home with a barbershop. I was apprenticed to the shop for two years.”;

The work included helping to run the barber's household, helping his wife care for their children, cooking and cleaning. Endo ran away twice but her parents sent her back.

“;Those days, you cry but you didn't give up because your parents wouldn't let you. Those days, you couldn't talk back, and you couldn't do what you want.

“;The barber was very strict. When I look back, he was a great teacher. He even told me, 'I'm not doing this because I'm going to make money from you. I'm doing this so you can help yourself.'

“;I wrote a letter to thank him when I got this place. All the things he taught me I kind of remembered.”;