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Many memories in the Bidne Building

By Staff | Dec 9, 2018

With sledge hammer in hand, Ray Bidne, of Bricelyn, takes a whack at this building in Wells which used to be his family’s barbershop.

The memories aren’t in that building, Dad,” says Anne Feist to her father, Ray Bidne, as the demolition of their old family barber shop building in downtown Wells became a reality. Anne points to her father’s heart and says, “they’re in here.”

As Ray Bidne choked back some appropriate tears as he reflected over the 25 years of business he had in the building that would soon no longer hug the corners of South Broadway and West Franklin Streets, he rested his 82-year-old hand against the brick of the building and took a moment of silent reflection.

Perhaps it was remembering his many patrons, or perhaps he was recalling the fond memories of he and his wife Barb sharing their business, maybe he was trying to calculate just how many individual hairs he had cut over so many years.

Afterwards, his daughter embraced him, also reflecting on the memories not only of the barber shop and beauty salon, but of her mother, and Ray’s first wife, Barb, who passed away from breast cancer.

She was in charge of the beauty salon in the back of the barber shop when Ray’s business was on the main drag in Wells.

“I’ve always marveled at how many people I’ve touched, literally, in 45 years of being a barber,” says Ray. “I still keep in touch with a few of my customers after all this time has gone by. When you’re a barber, 20 minutes with a person can hold a lot of value.”

Ray actually obtained his barber’s license in 1961, and worked in a few different shops throughout the years, but the building in Wells was his and his wife’s heart and soul for quite a few years. Bidne says he and the shop received the title of “Midwest Barber of the Year” in 1987.

His daughter, Anne, has great memories of the place, too.

“I remember going in after school and helping dust for Dad. The beauty salon started in like ’82 or ’83, and Dad wanted to accommodate kids, so he bought an old kiddy car and mounted it on an axle and onto his chair pump so kids could sit in the car while they got their haircut,” says Anne. “He always went the extra mile for his customers. So did Mom, she was one of the first ladies in southern Minnesota to sell acrylic nails.”

Barb Bidne also had a few other accommodations that were before their time, including an upright tanning bed, and, at one point, Barb wanted to offer therapeutic massage.

“But that was the ’80s and massage therapy had a different connotation back then,” Anne chuckles. “Nothing like it is today. Can you imagine, Dad, if Mom would have started that back then?”

“It sure would’ve been something,” laughs Ray in response. “We called it Bidne Family Hair Care then and it was the first of its kind in Southern Minnesota.”

“The door is open!” Anne says after trying the front door latch of the old building that has been deemed hazardous, with papers on the door to prove it. Anne and her father walk into the building, arm in arm. For a moment or two, they share back to back memories that start with the phrase, “do you remember when.” Ray says the place used to smell like a dentist’s office for years after they moved in.

“Of course, there was a dentist that worked there in that building before I showed up,” says Ray. “And it was a bank at some point as well.”

The dilapidated ceiling has caved in it’s wooden cross beams have pushed through the gilded ceiling, creating a look of chaos to a once beautiful building interior.

“I wish we could have saved this building,” says city administrator CJ Holl. “It would have been a really cool historic building to keep. Some of the ceiling is actually decorated copper. I’m sure it looked amazing back in the day.”

But today, the place looks hazardous. Years and years of multiple tenants and businesses have worn the walls and ceiling and floor down to its bare bones. There are no walls to distinguish the guest bathroom from the main office. No portion of the floor that isn’t covered with years of water damage. The only visible copper now is that of the copper popping up from the floor from where the barber’s washing station may have stood.

“There were some customers that wouldn’t speak a word while I did their hair, and that was fine with me, I didn’t talk if they didn’t want me to talk,” says Ray. “But when they asked me how much for the haircut, I would say, ‘oh, now you want to talk?”

Ray was given the honor of the first blow to the building. The 82-year-old placed his cane down, and replaced it with a sledge hammer. Bracing for balance with his feet, and adjusting the hammer in his hands, Ray took a few blows to the side of the building. The bricks crumbled as the sledge hammer met the corner of Ray’s former barber shop.

His family applauded and picked up a few brick mementos and photos as they shared memories on the corner, the snow beginning to fall around them. His current wife, whom he married years after Barb’s passing, helps Ray with his cane as he sets down the mighty hammer.

The city still has yet to demolish the building. It is still working on the logistics of removing the Bidne building without disturbing the neighboring building.

“They took some of the awning down to have a look, and suspect that in 1946, when the tornado damaged many buildings, they simply built a roof on top of a roof rather than repair what was underneath,” says Holl, regarding the structural integrity of the building before demolition. “That ‘under roof’ is connected to the building next door and covers it as well.”

It may be the end of a barber shop, but the city of Wells hopes to create a green space where the Bidne building once stood, and allow a place for citizens to still enjoy the scene from the corner of Broadway and Franklin.