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Business is brisk for Bainbridge barbers
What does it take to be a barber on Bainbridge Island?
Besides the hand dexterity required to avoid drawing blood and managing a head of hair so that its presentable, he or she had better be long on perseverance, enjoy the company of gray-haired men and be a master listener and/or story-teller. And it might help if the barber likes to exercise to overcome the physical stress of standing several hours a day.
Notwithstanding several hairstylists on the island, Bainbridge has an ample number of skilled practitioners of the ancient art of flat-tops, crew cuts and nose-hair trims. There was a time when it appeared as if the venerable barbershop and its distinctive red-and-white pole might be replaced by the modern hair salon.
But old habits die hard for some, not to mention their resistance to paying 40 bucks simply to put some distance between hair and ears. So the likes of Chuck Stearns, Cherie Rogers, Anna Boccio and Mike Rogers stand ready with scissor and comb to trim thinning heads of aging hair 20 to 30 times a day.
All of them have been cutting hair long enough to grow their own crop of gray (though some have applied darker colors), and have perfected the craft to the degree of being able to do it with their eyes closed if they wished.
Of course, such a careless approach would never occur because the ability to read a customer is a critical attribute for anyone providing a personal service for the general public.
When someone walks in here for the first time I start sizing him up right away, says Stearns, who is the dean of island barbers with more than 30 years of service here. Im looking to see if, like, maybe the left side is longer that the right, so Ill need to even it up. Then, I pay attention to exactly what he wants.
That first haircut is very important because if you dont get it right you probably wont have a second chance.
So whats it like to be on the business end of all those sharp objects? Tiring, for one thing, though all except Mike Rogers at Sandys Barbershop on Winslow Way work on an appointment-only basis, which allows them to get off their feet once in a while.
But mostly its just providing a personable, quality experience to a constant parade of older men with a few women and young boys mixed in 15 minutes at a time. Most of the customers have been in there before, so both catch up on whats new in their lives or other peoples lives while the barber goes on autopilot. Click, click click. Blah, blah, blah.
Im pretty good at what I do, said Boccio, who has owned Cuts Above on Winslow Way for nearly 12 years. Im artistic and I believe theres an element of creativity in what I do. Ive never found it monotonous, though customers might sometimes. How? Ive cut hair when people were napping. No problem for me.
She prefers them with theyre more alert, however.
I like the people here and I look forward to seeing them again, she said before noticing that an elderly customer had approached the front door with the aid of a walker. She excused herself, walked to the door, lifted the walker inside and helped the man walk up the two steps. All in a days work.
Its an honest business in that you get a fair return ($16 for a basic cut) for your service, she continued. It was difficult for me at first, when I came here (from Seattle). I was doing walk-ins and people were checking me out. I had a lot of sleepless nights. I wondered if I had done the right thing.
But after a couple of years I started to establish myself. It helped to go to appointments only. Now I appreciate the freedom of running my own business. And I enjoy the people very much.
Cherie Rogers knows all about breaking into a mans world.
At 18 in 1976, she became a journeyman in a downtown Poulsbo barbershop that catered to mill workers. For much of the first year she cut the hair of men who found their way to her chair primarily by default because the owner, a man, was already busy.
Theyd go to him first, said Rogers, who now owns Island Barber, located in a small building located adjacent to her home on Sands Avenue in Bainbridge. But eventually some of them tried me and then they started coming to me on a regular basis. They liked how I cut their hair.
When she decided to move her Poulsbo business to the island where she lived in 2000, much of her clientele followed her.
When men find a barber they like, they usually keeping going there, she said. They go to barbershops because they dont like sitting next to someone whos getting a permanent or theres a lot of chemicals around. Now Im cutting the hair of kids of old customers. Its kind of fun.
Stearns hasnt always enjoyed plying his trade, but hes a hair-cutting institution on the island, wheres hes now in his third shop.
He started working for Erkine Sanders in Sandys Barbershop in the early 1970s, eventually becoming a co-owner. But he left Sandys after 13 years, worked elsewhere for a few years and then went to work in Bill Norris shop across the street from Sandys. He eventually bought out Norris.
Since September 2006, hes been the sole owner and operator of Chucks Barber Shop in the Best Western complex on High School Road.
Ive been able to build up a good clientele because Im businesslike about it, he said. There are a lot of subtleties to this job. Like being able to read the person, what their jobs are, their clothes, how important a haircut is to them. Mostly, I listen to them.
Stearns enjoys a good conversation, but, unlike Boccio for example, he wont offer much of himself. I wont gossip much, he said. I keep it short and sweet. Like in Las Vegas, what is said here, stays here.
Boccio enjoys the interaction, too, but she has a different take on it.
Its fun to talk about whats going on in the neighborhood, she says in her shop, which, with warm colors, a black-and-white tile floor and fine art hanging from its walls, has more of a salon feel to it than amost barbershops. People want to know whats the news and I think they appreciate the information. Its fine as long as it doesnt hurt anyone.
Mike Rogers, who has operated Sandys Barber Shop for 12 of the last 13 years, said his business is beginning to rebound after he left the shop for a year. He prefers walk-ins only, which he says is best for his shop because of its central location and its old-time barbershop feel.
While barbering can be difficult physically, especially if a person is overweight, both Boccio and Stearns are thin and have remained healthy by exercising. Boccio jogs five or six days a week, while Stearns practices kung-fu for an hour three times a week.
Standing can be tough, Stearns said while trimming the back of a customers neck. A lot of barbers have varicose veins, arthritis and carpal tunnel. Im in better shape than I used to be.
Barbers who jog and perform martial arts?
Whatever it takes, they say, to keep going.