Springfield barber’s career measured in 15-minute conversations

Don Maine trims up Bill Brougher’s hair in Maine’s barber shop for the last time. TOM STAFFORD/CONTRIBUTED

caption arrowCaption
Don Maine trims up Bill Brougher’s hair in Maine’s barber shop for the last time. TOM STAFFORD/CONTRIBUTED

To try to picture how much hair Don Maine swept up from under various chairs over 64 years of barbering in Springfield, I drove south from his two-chair shop at Dayton Avenue and Jefferson Street to C&S Mulch, where bulldozers push together piles of brush for processing.

It was a waste of time.

Because as Maine told me before retiring yesterday, that’s not how work is measured by him or others in the vanishing breed of men whose shops display traditional barber poles.

They measure it by a lifetime of 15-minute conversations.

“I’m going to miss it a lot,” Maine told me.

“There’s lot of people that I feel like I know about as well I do my own family. I’ve cut some of these people ever since I’ve been on Clifton Avenue.”

He started there at the elder Ed Johnson’s shop near Hayward Middle School in 1958, right after the price of a haircut rose from 75 cents to $1.

Since then, some of his customers have grown into “four to five generations” of the same family, he said.

ExploreAfter her daughter’s death by suicide, a Springfield mother advocates for hate crime penalties in the military

Take Deputy Sheriff Brian Melchi, whose forebears first sat in Maine’s chair after being pulled in a red wagon.

Bill Brougher was a little older – 25 – the day he wandered in to Maine’s Dayton Avenue shop just after Brougher returned to Springfield to take a job with Eagle Tool, then the family business.

“He didn’t have any of them gray hairs” back then, Maine recalled.

For his part, Brougher recalled saying “something to Don about having really thick hair and that I didn’t have to worry about losing it.”

He also remembers Maine’s reply: “Hmmm.”

“Don and I had a lot of nice conversations over the years,” Brougher said. “He won’t wear you out about the names of the Reds players. They’re more real conversations.”

caption arrowCaption
Don Maine trims up Bill Brougher’s hair in Maine’s barber shop for the last time. TOM STAFFORD/CONTRIBUTED

Don Maine trims up Bill Brougher’s hair in Maine’s barber shop for the last time. TOM STAFFORD/CONTRIBUTED

caption arrowCaption
Don Maine trims up Bill Brougher’s hair in Maine’s barber shop for the last time. TOM STAFFORD/CONTRIBUTED

No one has had more of those with Maine than Ed Cromish, his buddy since the two of them met as kids at Possum School.

“He used to be my guinea pig,” said Maine, an accusation Cromish doesn’t deny.

This goes back to 1957, when Maine was attending Andrews Barber College in Columbus after being advised by his parents that his 5-foot-3 body might be worn out by many of the physically taxing jobs then available in Springfield’s industrial economy.

“He said he was going to be a barber and had an idea of cutting ducks and everything else,” said Cromish, mentioning the “DA” style impolitely compared to a duck’s rear end.

“I volunteered, and after that, it was ‘try this and try that,’ ” Cromish said. “I think we started some of those haircuts for other people.”

The younger Ed Johnson, who had been working at his dad’s shop for a year when Maine arrived, said “there’s not many that can do flat-tops as well as he does. I like flat tops, too, but he’s probably the best.”

Explore4 new restaurants to try in Springfield this summer

At 88 (five years older than Maine), he regards him even more highly as a friend and part of “quite a crew” of barbers in his father’s shop at the time.

The two of them, along with Skip Slack, who died in Florida a few years back, would play ball in the yard next to the shop during slow times, enjoying the freedoms of young adult life.

Early in his own career Johnson had two run-ins with the barbering police. Having cut hair three years in the Navy, Johnson would occasionally cut hair in his dad’s shop before being licensed to pay for gas money to Columbus, where he, too, went to Andrews Barber College.

The first citation for cutting without a license was $5 and court costs. The second cost his father $175, which the younger Johnson didn’t have. It also came with a warning that a third violation would cut the young man’s career shorter than a Marine’s hair on the first day of boot camp.

The proper chastened Johnson straightened up, and he had an unblemished record when COVID-19 suspended his career.

In the shuffle of careers, Maine bought the elder Johnson’s shop, where the younger Johnson worked until his father bought another one on down Clifton Avenue. The younger Johnson eventually relocated to Leffel Lane and now Madison Avenue, where he works with his daughter and wife.

Maine eventually moved out to the former ice cream shop on Dayton Avenue, drawn there by a location on “a main drag” that had ample parking.

That put him in contact with one of his final customers, Ken Laurette, who years ago worked for John Lehman at Lehman’s market, where they made “a mean lunch.”

Because Lehman didn’t like Laurette’s long hair and beard, “he told me any time I wanted to get it cut he’d give me $20 for it,” which brought him to Maine’s shop.

Others stopped by the place to admire a series of cars Maine bought and gussied up.

Among them were a ’31 Model A and ’40 Pontiac coupe; ’55 and ’57 Chevies; two Studebaker Larks; and a blue ’69 Barracuda convertible he owned for “30-some years.” He sold one of them to a guy from Indian Lake who stopped after getting an eyeful of it in the lot that day.

And just as Maine sold his cars for profit, he bought and sold lots at Indian Lake, starting at a time “when you could pick them things up for little or nothing,” he said. Buying a garage and land at Turkey Foot, he added a modular home and sold that for a profit, bought another and repeated the same process several times.

“That’s made me feel better” than making his money solely at the barber’s chair.

The buying, selling and a few rentals have allowed him to work three days a week in his shop, splitting time with another barber, for the past 20 years. They also provided him with a home across the street from his barber shop and his retirement place on Indian Lake.

He considers that not bad for a boy who grew up in Springfield’s Limecrest development, one of the last areas of Springfield to get indoor plumbing.

In the final years of his career, Maine has picked up customers of other independent barbers, who have been going the way of the old barn and the outhouse. In a business dominated by franchised shops that serve male and female customers, the two-, three- or four-chair independent shop is a rarity.

But the tradition may continue at Maine’s shop under its new operator Christina Suttles, whose father operates C & S Mulch just down the street.

Suttles, who managed a chain hairstyling place, says she plans in a couple of months to reopen Maine’s place as “a little barber shop” offering haircuts only.

Perhaps like Maine, “I like the idea of having my own spot and being my own boss for a while,” she said.

And while other of Maine’s customers will be relieved to hear of Suttle’s plans, Maine’s old guinea pig, Cromish, needn’t worry about finding a new barber. He has a standing invitation to drive up to a certain retirement pace at Indian Lake for a visit and a free haircut any time he likes.

By this point in his life, it’s nearly impossible for Maine not to talk while cutting hair.