Barbershop Quartet

The Five Barbers In Hampton

By Susan Morse

The Hampton Union - Herald Sunday, Sunday, October 20, 2002

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

Clientele from all around make their way to downtown Hampton, where the art of the buzz cut is alive and well. The Shops are still mainly a man's domain, where the talk is politics, sports and a little gossip.

["(Years ago) we specialized in flat tops and crew cuts. The Beatle's set such a style, with young people coming in and finding out we were not doing the best with those (longer) haircuts." --Les Searles
Owner of Les' Barber Shop on High Street, lamenting that customers' desire for longer, layered hairstyles drove many barbers from the business.]

HAMPTON -- Mayberry needed only one, and it had Floyd.

In Hampton there's Wayne, Les and Bob, and also Joy and Sherri.

No fewer than five barbers - four are within walking distance of Marelli Square - ply conversation with their clippers in Hampton.

None seems to know what attracts so many barbers to this town in which buying a pair of socks is problematic.

All appear to be doing a steady business, no worse for the competition.

As Bob Fredette of Bob's Barbershop put it: "Why not ask why there's so many sandwich shops in town?"

Which is true: Downtown Hampton now has an assortment of places to grab a good lunch, from the long-standing restaurant in Depot Square, to the Old Salt at Lamies, Zesto's Pizza, the surf and sandwich shop Tommy Gone Loco and Caffe Fresco.

But really, five barbers? Exeter, a town of comparable size, lists just one in the phone book while Portsmouth, a town much larger, also only lists one amid a plethora of beauty shops.

Hampton appears to be barber king of the Seacoast.

What's more, the barbers are thriving.

For one thing, short hair is back in style, keeping all five busy.

Young men such as Andrew Patton, 15, who recently emerged from the Depot Clipper with a crew cut that has a pushed-up flip in front, is bringing a new generation of customers to the shops.

'Hair, beautiful hair'

Barber Les Searles works on a
customer in his Hampton shop
on High Street.
{Photo by Sarah Zenewicz}

For Les Searles of Les' Barber Shop on High Street, who started out in the early 1960s, this is a real boon.

Searles began his career in Al's Barbershop on Pleasant Street in Portsmouth. Mothers would bring in their young sons, asking Searles to cut their child's hair like "John John's," Searle says.

Then the Beatles came along and soon young John Kennedy Jr.'s collar-length hair wasn't long enough anymore.

Teens, followed by young professionals, lawyers and police officers, would come into the barbershop and say their girlfriends or wives wanted their hair and sideburns a little longer. Guys who used to come in every two weeks were now showing up every six weeks.

Some were letting their girlfriends or wives cut their hair. Others switched to beauty salons when their barbers either couldn't cut their hair the way they wanted it, or wouldn't.

"Years ago, barbers skinned you because they didn't like long hair," says Fredette, who wears his own red hair in a retro, layered, Andy Gibb sort of cut.

"We specialized in flat tops and crew cuts," Searles says. "The Beatles set such a style, with young people coming in and finding out we were not doing the best with those (longer) haircuts."

The old standard of a "haircut and shoe shine" just didn't hold true anymore, Searles says. Shoot, guys weren't even wearing shoes anymore, but sneakers.

Many barbers, including Searles, got out of the business. Searles went into construction, going back to barbering off and on. Fourteen years ago he returned for good, first in Kingston and then as the second barber at Bob's Barbershop on Lafayette Road in downtown Hampton.

Six years ago, he opened his own shop around the corner.

Now he's cutting hair of young men that's shorter than his own. "The younger ones want it short and close," he said. Three, independent barbers and hairstylists also work in the shop.

He's got a steady income and the freedom he wouldn't have with another job, Searles says, a comment voiced by all of the barbers. They don't take appointments, for the most part. Their business is walk-in. On a day or two here and there, a shop has been known to remain closed during the workday as its owner has taken the day off. Barbers, it seems, are notorious golfers.

Plus, the barbers have a clientele they also call friends.

"In 15 minutes or so I spend time with a different person," Searles says. "Some are like family."

Make no mistake: This is a family of men.

Some women do go to a barber for a haircut. Two of the barbers in Hampton are women. For the most part, the clientele are men.

Unlike the feminine world of the cosmos - cosmetologists - which is about style, coloring and perming, barbering is about the clippers and male camaraderie.

'I like the man part of it all'

Bob Fredette demonstrates how he shaves
a beard. {Photo by Jackie Ricciardi}

In the waiting areas of the barbershops are the same magazines: Sporting News, Golf Digest, Auto World, maybe a Time or Newsweek here and there.

At Bob's Barber Shop, the place Bob Fredette keeps, the sports channel keeps a stream of conversation going in the waiting area.

Joy Talbot took over the Hampton Barbershop near Shop 'N Save five years ago. Asked why she didn't open a beauty salon, she says: "I asked myself, did I want to do girl's talk or a variety of talk? I can call my girlfriends for girl's talk."

"I like the man part of it all," says barbering student Derek Jones, 26, of Newmarket, who has stopped by Wayne's Barbershop to see owner Wayne Chapman. "I consider a barber like a finished carpenter. I consider a cosmo a framer. I think we learn more of a technique."

Ray "Ray the Barber" Adams, 46, who has just opened a shop in Manchester, is with Jones on this tour of Hampton barbershops. Jones, a student at Michael's School of Hair Design in Manchester, is looking for a place to apprentice.

It's tough for new barbers, they say, because after graduating they need a year's experience working for a master barber and must be put on the payroll rather than renting out a chair.

The two chat with Chapman and his wife Mary, who runs the beauty shop next door. The couple has been married 34 years. Mary cuts Wayne's hair and her own.

"Wayne fixes what I start," she jokes.

Mary talks about making hairstyle recommendations to her clients when Ray the Barber interrupts.

"That's the difference between a barber and a cosmo," he laughs. "A barber will just cut your hair and a cosmo will try to change it!"

Customers, friends

Barber Wayne Chapman, owner of
Wayne's Barbershop in Hampton.
{Photo by Sarah Zenewicz}

Wayne has been running his barbershop on Swain Court - the small alleyway between Route 1 and the High Street municipal parking lot - for 27 years. Before that, he worked for eight years at a barbershop on High Street, next door to the space where Les Searles works now.

Wayne's Barbershop has been closed for at least six months as Chapman has undergone radiation treatment for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. He plans to reopen Thursday, Oct. 24.

While he's been out, Chapman has gotten a lot of support from customers whom he considers friends as well.

One customer he saw driving by the shop pointed to the long hair on his head as a sign that Wayne better reopen soon.

No one is more excited for Wayne's to reopen than Wayne himself.

Chapman says he's managed to stay in business all these years because he's learned to cut hair the way the customer wants it done.

Not always an easy task.

"In my opinion," he says, "it takes five years' (experience) to do anybody who walks through the door."

In his shop is an old Belmont barber chair, the kind of chair that melts around your body when you sink into it. It's the Cadillac of barber chairs, says Chapman, who still uses it for trimming beards. The haircuts are done in the modern chairs.

Half the time, there's a line of about five guys waiting for a haircut. On Saturdays, it's standing-room only, he says.

The clientele just keep on coming, three generations worth now. He gives the older men the traditional cut and the high school kids anything they want.

"Ricky Martin was the rage for a while," Chapman says of the "La Bomba" king.

Since he's been out of the business for six months, he has some catching up to do, he says.

Chapman says he tries to avoid the topic of politics. He also won't name-drop any bigwigs who've come in, especially during presidential election time.

Being on the highly visible section of Route 1 near Colt News, Bob Fredette in Bob's Barber Shop has perhaps seen more than his share of politicians and media people looking for a handshake or news segment in small-town America.

Senate candidate John Sununu has been in for a haircut; gubernatorial candidate Bruce Keogh stopped by to politic; and when convicted murder conspirator Pamela Smart was making news 10 years ago, Fredette says, a national news crew came by to interview the locals for their reaction. The sequence was shown on NBC News with Tom Brokaw.

The shop is a photographer's dream, sandwiched between other small shops on a traditional main street.

"There's the coffee shop, the barbershop and Marelli's," Fredette says.

There's a real working barber pole out front (Les' Barber Shop has one, too) and three, half-century old Emil J. Paidor barber chairs from Chicago inside. The chairs have stayed with the place for the past 80 or so years the space has been a barbershop.

Fredette has owned the shop for 14 years; he's been a barber for 29.

He is also a licensed cosmetologist, but enjoys barbering.

"It's more personal," Fredette says. "In here," he says waving an arm to the four wooden waiting chairs, "everybody's involved. You don't even have to know each other, it's the atmosphere of the room."

Talk is the usual: sports, politics and local gossip.

"Cosmo" the dog greets customers at the door of the Hampton
Barbershop while owner Joy Talbot gives Bob Langill
of Hampton a trim. {Photo by Jackie Ricciardi}

A shave and a haircut

"The industry has changed," Fredette says. "What I call a barber, an old-fashioned barber, no longer exists."

Fredette tries to keep tradition. He is among the few barbers interviewed who still gives a shave and a haircut. It's no longer two bits, but even considering inflation, $37 isn't bad.

It's an involved process that goes something like this: Fredette applies two hot towels; hot lather; another hot towel; more lather; the shave with a straight-edge; another hot towel; mentholated cream; another hot towel; and then after-shave if the customer desires.

It's $25 for the shave alone, and Fredette gives only a handful a month.

"Years ago, it was a necessity," he says. "There were no good razors. Today, it's a luxury."

A haircut at all of the shops costs $11 to $12.

All of the barbers in town say they have loyal customers who travel from Dover, Boston and points in between to get to the shop.

Those who took over an existing shop had the benefit of an established clientele.

For barbers Joy Talbot and Sherri Maguire, who both took over established shops previously run by men, it was a bit of a battle convincing the customers not to switch to a male barber.

Talbot, from Chelmsford, Mass., was a little scared of the competition when she took over the Hampton Barber Shop near Shop 'N Save on Route 1, but that was nothing compared to how the guys viewed her taking over from Nick.

"There was a lot of them that were scared of me," she says. "A lot of them left. I had to offer free haircuts to get them to stay."

Sherri Maguire takes a little off the sides for Jack McCosker of Lee
at the Depot Clipper. {Photo by Jackie Ricciardi}

Maguire took over the Depot Barbershop, now called the Depot Clipper, after the death of her father four years ago. Her father Leroy had run the shop for years.

Maguire says she and her clients would talk about her dad and that helped to break the ice. Some realized it was a lot more fun to get their hair tousled by a feminine touch.

In the center of the Depot Clipper are two, huge green and white barber chairs from the 1950s. At the end of each arm is an ashtray. The seats look like something out of a classic Continental.

Regular Frank Amato, from Amesbury, Mass., slides into the driver's seat of one after getting a hug from Maguire. She shaves his head, in sort of a reverse Mohawk haircut he's been getting for 30 years, the same cut he had when he served in the military in Germany when the Berlin Wall was going up.

He says he had a hard time finding a barber who could give him the kind of haircut he liked.

"(I thought), 'How could a woman cut a man's hair properly when I had given all these salami heads a chance?'" he says.

Amato talks all through the haircut, telling a litany of jokes.

He stops to talk about the barbershops of his youth in Worcester, Mass.

"When I was growing up, it was a man's domain," Amato says. "There was always a copy of the Police Gazette, always stogies, always talk of the boxing matches. It's part of Americana that's ..."

He stops and shrugs. Gone is the word he doesn't say.