How To Talk To Your Barber

How to Talk to Your Barber: Portland, Maine

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Norman Millette is 78 years of age. Some 54 years ago, he opened up his barber shop at 664 Congress Street in Portland, Maine. Norman has seen a lot. Periods of historic changes, punctuated by hairstyles to match. From the days of pompadours and flattops, to mohawks and mullets, and back again.

The shop itself is a snug triangle built up against a much larger building in back. A small room with two chairs for cutting and six for waiting, filled to the brim with stories flowing freely from Norman’s mouth. One such story chronicles the shop’s name change from Longfellow Barber Shop to Senior Citizen Barber Shop, “Back in the late ‘60s, young people were growing their hair long. That was bad for business. I decided that focusing on senior citizens was the way to go.”

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“That was a different time, with different rules.”

He called up the Yellow Pages to take out a new ad but ran into some unexpected difficulties when trying to include language about catering to senior citizens, “The lady in the ad department told me it wasn’t allowed. That was a different time, with different rules. I offered up alternatives, but she wasn’t having it.”

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After some back and forth, the Yellow Pages employee suggested to Norman that they start the process of creating the ad over. She asked to re-confirm the name of the shop, to which Norman replied: “The Senior Citizens Barber Shop.”

With surprise, she offered: “I thought you said the name was Longfellow Barber Shop? When did it change?” Without missing a beat, Norman replied: “A few minutes ago.”

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After the name change business picked up as anticipated. The name stuck, even if these days Norman’s clientele splits pretty evenly between seniors and young people. Some customers in their 40s and 50s, Portland mainstays, have only ever had their hair cut by Norman.

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The shop manages to combine the speedy with the personable. The banter is endless, but a haircut only takes about 15 minutes. Customers often linger to hear another story, or a friendly political debate. The room is filled with laughter, some cursing, and a lot of happy customers—as it has for the past half a century. Both a relic and omnipresent reminder that while the world may change, the best of things can stay the same.