on June 29, 2013 - 6:04 PM
Since the 1960s, Charles Caussain has watched the march of time from his Hertel Avenue barbershop.
Some changes he saw were big, like when Walgreen’s replaced Sunshine’s Market across the street or when the Sample Shop made way for senior housing.
The march also came in small sizes. On a Saturday morning in May every year, hundreds of Little League ballplayers wearing baseball jerseys marched past his barbershop to nearby Shoshone Park for opening day.
Many of those ballplayers, as they grew into adults, became his customers and went on to become coaches.
“They’re marching with their kids now,” Caussain said.
Caussain, 72, of Getzville, has enjoyed much of what he has seen and heard from his familiar perch by the barber’s chair at Charlie’s Barber Shop, near Parkside Avenue.
But as he begins his retirement this week, he will have to find a new routine. He said he will do so with a couple of friends who for years started most days with a morning visit to the barbershop to trade small talk, look over the paper and offer to fetch coffee for each other and customers.
“It has been a good 52 years,” Caussain said. “I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. I’ve met a lot of nice people.”
Caussain started cutting hair on Hertel fresh out of barber school in 1961 and, a year later, he moved a couple of blocks to the storefront spot where he would cut hair for almost all of the next 51 years.
Drafted in 1965, he served two years in the Army, including a tour in Vietnam as a company clerk. Of course, he cut hair on the side during his military service. Other soldiers built a chair for him, and he cut hair a couple of hours at night and on Saturdays.
When he returned in 1967, he bought the Hertel barbershop. He has worked alone there since 1970. He still uses the same cash register with which he started.
While successful business owners can boast about surviving recessions, Caussain can say his business survived the 1970s, when young men, and even older ones, stopped getting regular haircuts.
Caussain saw them through his barbershop window.
“They’d walk by and wave,” he said.
He hung on by giving haircuts to their grandfathers.
He thought about finding a new line of work.
“Thank God I didn’t,” he said. “That lasted for a couple of years, and we got back to normal.”
In 1985, Caussain bought the building where his shop was located. That meant he could keep his shop open at the same location and not worry about losing a lease and being forced to relocate. He sold the building in 2011.
Samuel Bevilacqua and Bill Brinkworth, two retired Buffalo firefighters, routinely start their mornings at the barbershop.
Bevilacqua, 76, recalls bringing his grade-school-age boys for haircuts. His sons Michael and Patrick are now 49 and 44 years old, respectively.
Bevilacqua sometimes pulled up to the barbershop in a fire truck.
The barbershop was the first place Bevilacqua was driven after his release from Buffalo General Hospital some 26 years ago following open-heart surgery.
“Where are you taking me?” Bevilacqua recalled asking a fellow firefighter who picked him up from the hospital. “ ‘You have to go see Charlie,’ he told me.”
Over the years, Bevilacqua has insisted to many of the regulars that he got his haircuts from another barber. Some believed him. Others spotted him in Caussain’s chair.
Brinkworth lived in an apartment in the building for many years until recently moving.
Recently, Caussain has been picking up Bevilacqua at 7:30 a.m. to bring him to the barbershop.
Caussain said he started thinking about retirement about four months ago.
“I felt like it was time,” he said. “My body was telling me it was time to hang it up.”
His last day in business was Saturday.
With the barbershop now closed, Caussain, Bevilacqua and Brinkworth have yet to decide where they will convene next.
Caussain said he will miss his customers, many of whom have become friends.
But he intends to stick with his retired firefighter friends who had become a friendly and familiar presence at the barbershop.
Ending that would “be like cutting your arm off,” he said.
In the weeks since announcing his retirement, Caussain received more than his customary cash tips after his $12 haircuts. He was hugged a lot by longtime customers.
“Lot of hugs, handshakes and cards,” he said. “It’s been a nice farewell the past couple of weeks.”
It will be a hard to replace the barbershop that was part of the Hertel streetscape for so long.
“To me, it’s a comfortable place,” Caussain said of his barbershop. “A lot of baloney. Bad jokes. Good jokes. Nobody gets mad. Just a comfortable place. That’s the way I wanted it.”