If a Boston Red Sox fan were to drive eastward on Route 2 after a game at Fenway Park, this fan would, after three hours or so, arrive at St. Pierre’s Barbershop at 20 Spring St., Williamstown, Mass. If this fan happened to be in desperate need of a haircut, St. Pierre’s would not necessarily be the most convenient barbershop, but it is probably the only one that advertizes its distance from the historic stadium. Despite hanging a sign that famously reads, “Only three hours from Fenway Park,” Roger St. Pierre, the shop’s proprietor, is a fan of the Red Sox’s most hated rival: the New York Yankees. St. Pierre adores Fenway Park, he said. “But round here, all I got on TV when I was a kid were the Yankees, and they were the best team by far with Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris and company,” he said.
St. Pierre was born in 1949, grew up in post-World War II America and has worked in his family’s barbershop for 43 of the last 45 years. The only two years he was away were 1969 and 1970, when he was drafted into the Vietnam War. “By 1969, when I went in,” St. Pierre said of the war, “you lacked the pride, or certainly the incentive to be there. There weren’t many people that were really gung-ho about serving.”
Nevertheless, St. Pierre faithfully served his country and then went back to Williamstown to his family’s barbershop. Since returning from Vietnam, St. Pierre has worked nearly every day in the service of cutting the hair of members of the College and Williamstown communities, a job he has inherited from older generations of St. Pierres.
The first St. Pierre to work at the shop was the current proprietor’s great-uncle, who bought it from his boss in the early 1900s. The great-uncle ran the shop for many years before selling it to St. Pierre’s uncle, who was his father’s eldest brother. This uncle ran the shop for a number of years before selling it to his nephew-in-law, who sold it shortly thereafter to his business partner, Bud Anderson, after whom the local baseball field is named. After a few years, Anderson fell ill, and in 1977 St. Pierre bought the barbershop from Anderson’s widow for $12,000.
Almost as frequently as the store has changed owners, it has changed locations. Though it has never left the friendly confines of Spring St., it has inhabited just about every one of its buildings. The original location was a building which has since burned down but stood where Sushi Thai, Spice Root and Goff’s are currently located. The shop then moved in September of 1968 to the original Purple Pub building (which has also since burned down and is now the empty lot by TD Bank). A few years later, it moved to what is currently the MASS MoCA gift shop. In December 1989, St. Pierre finally moved the shop to its current location.
St. Pierre, who will turn 65 this summer, has decided to slow down the family business and go into semi-retirement for the time being. In his prime, he worked 10 hours a day, six days a week. Now, as he comes close to hanging up his shears, he works four days a week so that he can have a three-day weekend. He has also turned the business into a one-chair shop, leaving the other two empty and taking on less business than before.
“It’s not that I don’t enjoy what I am doing – I’ve got so many friends in this business I’ve known for decades and decades, I’m going to miss the hell out of that when I’m not doing this anymore – but when I’m here, I’m not somewhere else,” namely, with his family, St. Pierre said. “I’ve got three grandchildren that live an hour away, I want to spend more time with them … over 45 years I’ve missed a lot of events, I don’t want to miss any more,” St. Pierre said.
St. Pierre’s oncoming departure from Spring St. reflects a trend of change in Williamstown. St. Pierre used to jokingly refer to the street as “Main St., U.S.A.” because “anything you could find anywhere, you could find on Spring St.” With the advent of national chains though, such as Stop-and-Shop and Wal-Mart in nearby towns, many local stores have gone out of business.
“Going back 40 years, Spring St. had a shoe store, a men’s clothing store, a sporting goods store, two pharmacies,” St. Pierre said. That just is not the case anymore “because the way we purchase things has changed.”
For now, however,
St Pierre – and St. Pierre’s – are thankfully not going anywhere. Should the football team manage to win at Homecoming next year, the barbershop will still be there as the endpoint of The Walk to give the players their victory cuts as per campus tradition. Though Spring St. may be changing, we can always count on a St. Pierre being in town, because even if the store closes, he jokes, “they’ll bury me right here in town,” St. Pierre said.