Neighborhood NewsIndian Country


Lodge Grass barber shop bright spot in town’s revival

Merval Phelan
Posted at 2:00 PM, Jun 30, 2024

LODGE GRASS — Merval Phelan remembers growing up in Crow Agency often seeking a service not readily available.

“On the rez there’s not a lot of people that cut hair … well, that cut hair good,” Phelan said on a recent, sunny afternoon. “I needed a haircut, and everybody that cut hair was gone, or … to be honest, was in jail."

So, at the young age of nine, Phelan literally took matters into his own hands.

“I went home and I found some clippers underneath our bathroom sink and I put a guard on and just started cutting my own hair,” he recollected.

Phelan admits with a smile he hasn’t trusted anybody to cut his hair since.

Fast-forward 20 years and he is now the only certified barber here — a move he never imagined.

“I said straight up, ‘Man, I’ll go anywhere in the world but Lodge Grass.’ As soon as that left my lips, when I was like 18 years old, I literally hung my head and was -- sigh – I’m going to Lodge Grass one day,” he recalled with a laugh.

Yet, here is Phelan sharing a newly equipped trailer with a coffee shop in a cleaned-up community on the rise. Hence, the business name Arise.

Before a steady stream of customers on this day, up a set of stairs and through a sliding glass door proudly sits Tuff Good Luck – a young regular – seated for his meticulously, stylish fade.

“He really does well with Merval," Savannah Good Luck said of her son. "We’ve been to other places, but I think it’s just kind of a feel thing for him, like textures and everything.”

Phelan wants to do well for the community where he and his family have somewhat newly planted roots. He's even mindful right down to the detail of how he spins his barber seat.

“I face the chair this way," he explains facing it toward a wall with his entry noticeable by glancing to the left. "People come in, sit down and as soon as I do this (spinning his chair away from the glass doors) they’re like, ‘I don’t feel like I’m in Lodge Grass.’

"It’s not that we don’t want them to feel like they’re in Lodge Grass ... we want them to feel like Lodge Grass is getting better, is growing, is rehabilitating.”

And there appears to be proof: in the six weeks since their grand opening, no signs of vandalism or disturbances on site have been noticed on site.

“No … man, we haven’t had once incident," Phelan said. "There haven’t been no fights.”

So, with two new businesses sharing one deck, Phelan says his next hopeful move is driving traffic toward town with an interstate sign showcasing the new businesses.

Like-minded Mayor Quincy Dabney is also eager for growth, though at a moderate pace.

“I do want to give this time to grow,” he said, seated casually in a chair on the deck.

He'd like the town's next venture to be youth oriented. Perhaps a youth center or even a penny candy store like the community's original Cozy Corner.

“The retro, the 70s, the red-topped leather with the chrome-wrapped seats …" Dabney said while musing. " ... Then put that sign up there (on the interstate)."

One can almost envision the interstate sign approaching Lodge Grass: CUTS COFFEE CANDY — NEXT EXIT.