First Cut: Brenton Butler’s Shear Luck
by Demitri Corbin
There’s a new barber in town. His name is Brenton Butler and he is the proprietor of what was formerly known as Montgomery’s Barbershop. For years I’ve passed and greeted Duane Montgomery in his shop from which he retired after 49 years. I recently exchanged salutations with a young bearded gentleman, who, when I learned that he would be taking over this Ojai institution, I knew I wanted to interview.
Hi. Demitri here. I’m sitting in Brenton Butler’s Barbershop with Brenton Butler.
DC: December 23rd was the day that you and Duane — it was the last day for him, first day for you.
DC: I just so happened to be walking by on my way to the store and I saw him sit in the chair and you put the smock around him, to cut his hair. Let’s start there. Tell me about that day, that moment.
BB: That was actually the day after he retired. He couldn’t stay gone for long. He had made an appointment for a haircut. He sat down in his regular clothes and sat down in the chair where he had been cutting hair for 49 years, and proceeded to become a client. And to have him sit in my chair and be so comfortable; and to see the relief, all the weight go off of his shoulders and onto mine was a great moment.
DC: So, how did this come about, this collaboration. From the beginning, now.
BB: Well, I was cutting hair in Illinois and about three years, four years ago, my grandpa calls me up — he lives in Ojai. And he says there’s a barber in town and maybe he’s looking to retire or maybe he’s not. But you should come to Ojai and check it out, get a job. So, I thought about it and began to focus my energy on it … Well, then, life got in the way. I got in a relationship and I started heading in a different direction. But soon as that relationship was over my dream kinda was rekindled. I got another call from my mom. She was out here visiting and …
DC: So when was this second call?
BB: Second call was probably about three years ago. It was almost that same day I was about to sign a lease for my own barbershop in my hometown of Springfield, Illinois –
DC: Okay, I was going to ask where in Illinois. I’m from Chicago.
BB: I was cutting out of Peak in the Peoria area, so my mom calls and says, “Wait a minute. You’re not in a relationship, you have money saved up, nothing holding you back. Why don’t you just come out here and give it a shot.” I did. I came out here. I spent all my money. I had like a couple of weeks to get a job .. and I called Duane, he called me back and said “Why don’t you come?” I came in and talked to him. He gave me a chance. I guess the longer I was here, the more he was comfortable with me and he knew I was serious wanting to cut hair and it made the transition for him easier for him, for us both.
DC: How old are you now?
BB: I’m 30 years old.
DC: Have you always been a barber? Where does the passion for cutting hair, where does it grow from? Is it a natural talent?
BB: No, it was totally unexpected. It was a surprise. I wasn’t something I thought I’d ever be doing. I didn’t even spend a lot of time in barbershops. At age 22, 23, I was in a dark place in my life, I wasn’t keeping a steady job, I wasn’t living in a very clean environment. I was pretty much homeless and sleeping on floors and couches and apartments with no air conditioning and what-not. And my parents found a halfway house for me to live in Moline, Illinois.
DC: Moline, I’ve not heard that word in a long time!
BB: I was living right along the river and my roommate started going to barber college, he convinced me to go … and 11 months later I graduated. I got a job straight out of barber school and I realized how much I liked it, how much I loved the community that you create in a barbershop. And I also loved learning the skill itself, the art, the craftsmanship that comes with it. And over time I grew from a pretty insecure introvert into someone who enjoys connecting with 10 to 16 people every single day.
DC: So a big learning curve? A spurt of growth? This changed your life.
BB: Definitely. It changed my life and my outlook and I never thought I’d enjoy talking to people all day, I never thought I would enjoy that situation. But overall, I’ve come around to really enjoy it and respect the process and respect what can come from the social bonding and social grooming that is the mainstay of a barbershop.
DC: How do you like Ojai?
BB: I love Ojai. I mean, once I got used to the speed –
DC: Or the lack of speed!
BB: Or the lack of speed! Yeah, it took a little settling but, yeah, I love it. I don’t want to live anywhere else, and the people are absolutely amazing. They have been nothing but friendly to me and genuine and I’m just so thankful that I get to get up everyday, ride my bike to work and enjoy life within this community.