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National

Battle Over Barber Poles Spins In Minnesota

Ken Kirkpatrick, a barber at the Capitol Barber Shop in St. Paul, says he hopes Minnesota will ban salons from displaying the iconic barber pole in their shops if they don't have a barber on staff.
Ken Kirkpatrick, a barber at the Capitol Barber Shop in St. Paul, says he hopes Minnesota will ban salons from displaying the iconic barber pole in their shops if they don't have a barber on staff.

What's red, white and blue, and has spun its way into controversy? It's the barber pole.

The pole sometimes rotates outside the shops of cosmetologists or hair stylists who don't employ barbers. That's made some barbers across the country unhappy.

Minnesota is the latest state to explore making it illegal to display a barber pole, unless you are a licensed barber.

Ken Kirkpatrick, who is helping lead the charge in the state, couldn't be in a better spot to promote his cause. He cuts the hair of Minnesota lawmakers in the Capitol Barber Shop in the Capitol building in St. Paul.

Kirkpatrick has been a barber for around 40 years.

"The barber pole has been a symbol for the barbers for many years," he tells All Things Considered host Robert Siegel.

Each part of the barber pole represents something about the original physician-barbers. Kirkpatrick says the white is for bandages, the blue is for veins and the end cap on today's pole represents the vessels used to catch the blood. When physicians stopped offering haircuts and shaves, the barbers kept the pole.

"The barbering practice has been around for 6,000 years," he says. "And I just think this is something that we need to keep in our profession."

He says it's misleading for shops without a barber to display one of the iconic poles. He compares it to branding around restaurants.

"You know, if you drive down the street and you want to get yourself a hamburger [and] you want McDonalds, you look for the golden arches," he says. "You don't go to Burger King if you're looking for a McDonalds."

Because of his shop's location, Kirkpatrick has become a sort of lobbyist for the cause when he cuts lawmakers' hair.

"It's just that I'm in the state office building where they do all of the legislation so I get asked a lot of questions about it," he says.

Kirkpatrick says he's optimistic the new law will get passed. It's been received well elsewhere; 10 states already have similar laws on the books.

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