BANGOR — Four chairs line the narrow waiting area inside the nondescript yellow house at 584 Hammond St. The chairs are empty; their colorful pleather reflects wall-hung pictures of smiling customers and family members. Newspaper clippings — the oldest headline, from 1952, proclaims that “Orono Wins State Football Championship” — also hang on the walls.
Business is slower than it was half a century ago when Ervin Morrison began cutting hair, but he doesn’t mind. The slower pace allows him to connect better with his customers, something he hoped would happen when he moved from Orono and downsized from to his new operation in Bangor.
It’s a snowy Monday morning and, two hours after Morrison opened his barbershop, his first customer takes a seat in the barber chair. The soft static of country music — the only station that comes in — is soon drowned out by the buzz of electric clippers and Morrison’s gritty laugh as he engages in talk of the upcoming Super Bowl.
Despite having four metal rods and six screws in his back (the result of a house-painting accident), the 77-year-old Morrison works with speed and with attention to detail. He finishes the cut in 15 minutes after going back three times to make a few touchups. Morrison says he could have finished faster, but to him, cutting hair is all about the experience.
“I’m kind of a perfectionist; I’m kind of fussy,” he said.
The newly shorn customer leaves after paying $13 and a tip. The bells on the door jingle to a stop, the country music fades back in, and the barber pole spins quietly in the window while Morrison picks up his newspaper and takes a seat in the swivel chair.
He began cutting hair when he was 24 years old. Back from eight years (including four on active duty) in the Air Force, Morrison needed to take care of his wife and two kids. He enrolled in Hansen’s Barber School in Lewiston. After completing the nine-month course and taking a summer job in Boothbay Harbor, Morrison opened his first shop in his hometown of Orono.
That was not a hard decision for Morrison. In high school, he won the state championship in football as a freshman on the Orono varsity squad. He won the Penobscot Valley Conference’s track and field races in the 100-yard and 220-yard races. He jumped 19 feet and 43 inches to win the broad jump, today’s long jump.
If Morrison had not been a barber, he would have loved to be a coach. He participated on the Air Force football team, playing in Guam and the Philippines. “As long as you were playing football you had it pretty well made,” he said.
Being a barber has not always been profitable, but in the 1960s and ’70s, when long hair became popular, Morrison took a Ralph Lauren styling class to stay up with the times. That decision kept him in business, while some of his competition faded away. It is this dedication that has his customers returning year after year.
Bob Milheron, an Orono native, first met Morrison in grade school. He’s been getting his hair cut by Morrison as long as he’s been in the business.
Milheron describes Morrison, who works up to 57 hours a week, as a self-made man. “He worked hard all his life; he takes pride in that. He’s an honest straight shooter, very knowledgeable about people and the times,” said Milheron.
Morrison’s knowledge of current events and sports is what connected him with University of Maine and high school students when he had his shops in Orono.
“The students have been a wonderful experience, because I cut [the hair of] people from all over the world. They come to school in Maine. You know, I’ve probably cut someone from every state and around the world. It really was an education,” said Morrison, noting that he stays away from two topics when talking to clients: religion and politics.
“The way I see it is, I’m 50 percent wrong right away,” he said of the two taboo subjects.
Sports, on the other hand, is fair game. Talking about the games of football and baseball are not just a formality in Morrison’s shop, where the walls hold a poster of Fenway Park among pictures of antique cars. Other memorabilia are hung between pictures of Morrison’s seven grandchildren and one great-grandson.
One year after opening his new shop in Bangor, business is slower for Morrison than in Orono. Yet he said that downsizing, from three chairs to two, lets him spend more time on each cut and not rush. Despite being open 7:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday; noon-5 p.m., Wednesday; 7:30 a.m.-2 p.m., Saturday, Morrison sees fewer customers, which allows him to do three haircuts an hour versus the five he did in Orono.
“The difference is, in a one-chair shop, you’re doing everyone’s hair who comes through the door,” he said. “I like that because you’re doing the same person over and over and over, and you get to know them more personally, and you get to know exactly what they want.”
With a slower schedule in Bangor, Morrison can take 15-to 20-minute breaks to help rest his back. He has no plans for retiring.
“I think no matter what job a person goes in, they have to really like it. If you get up in the morning and you dread going to work, you’re not in the right occupation, and you should change it,” he said. Morrison’s favorite part of being a barber is talking to people and seeing someone walk out the door looking fresh and clean.