WINTHROP — Francis Lorette lay awake Saturday morning thinking about his life as a barber.

The 76-year-old was trying to decide if he should quit after almost 50 years of trimming hair at Lorette’s Barber Shop in Winthrop.

His part-time associate barber from Pittsfield, Rick Lynds, ended up in the hospital recently with an aortic aneurysm. Lynds has been at Eastern Maine Medical Center and wasn’t expected to return to work for more than a month.

Then, Lorette’s sister died, along with his good friend, Augusta barber Zane Peters. To top it off, he had to put down his cat of 15 years.

“I haven’t been able to sleep; I’ve been so stressed,” Lorette said. He said after not sleeping, at 3:30 a.m. he said to himself, “I guess now is the time.”

On his way out the door Saturday morning he told his wife, Gloria, that it might be his last day. She said they had been discussing the possibility of retirement, which she encouraged, but what he said as he left for work really didn’t sink in.

She said he called her at 1 p.m. “He wanted to let me know he was going to go down to the Legion because someone wanted to buy him a drink. I said, ‘It’s a little early for a drink,’ and he said this was his last day, that he had retired. I said ‘What?’ Really, I’m in just as much shock as his customers.”

Tim Culbert, a Maine State Police retiree from Winthrop, was Lorette’s last official customer on Saturday and the one who wanted to buy Lorette a drink.

Actually, it wasn’t his very last day. When Lorette stopped by his shop at 10 Union St. briefly Tuesday afternoon, two longtime customers who didn’t know about his decision — Dana Blackstone and Warren Hayward — came in for a cut.

Lorette couldn’t refuse them.

Blackstone said that Lorette had given him his first childhood haircut there. Lorette joked that Warren would be in trouble with his wife if he’d said he went out for a haircut but didn’t get one.

Culbert said he had been coming to Lorette’s for haircuts since 1984. The first time he stepped into Lorette’s barber shop the place was buzzing with patrons telling old stories, one-line jokes and bantering back and forth.

He soon realized he better have thick skin because once Lorette got to know you, it was open season for kidding.

“My heart sunk to the floor when he told me,” Culbert said. “But I also realized this is all about him and his life. Francis certainly has paid his dues working there for 49 1/2 years. And he had to put up with me for 27 years. I suppose he deserves the break. I wish him well and will miss his humor. I hopes he lives to see 100 birthday candles.”

Another longtime customer, Verdell Jones of Winthrop, has been coming to Lorette’s since 1971, when going to a barber shop was what all men did. He said many young men today opt for salons that serve both men and women and require appointments instead of walk-ins.

Jones said Lorette’s was a community gathering place where people would also go to shoot the bull and joke around.

“It was a fun place to go because you knew you would come out laughing,” Jones said. “I’m out of luck now. I guess I’ll have to shave my head. I don’t know where I’m going to go. It’s hard to find a barber.”

‘It’s been a good run’

Lorette said many of his customers aren’t aware of his decision to quit — but the news had been spreading by word of mouth and on Facebook. A note on his shop door thanked all his loyal customers who over the years “have shared many good jokes and many moments of friendship.”

Lorette grew up in Wilton and in 1958, after four years in the Navy, he used the GI Bill to attend barber school.

After finishing the nine-month course and earning certification, he worked for a barber shop in Dixfield and later learned about a space for rent on Main Street.

He moved his family to Winthrop and when his business grew he moved to a larger space on Union Street.

Lorette has a framed copy of the price list from 1963, when he first opened the shop in Winthrop. It shows that a haircut cost $1.50; a flat-top crewcut, $1.75; a children’s flat-top, $1.25, and children were 25 cents extra on Friday and Saturday.

In 2003, the Town Council recognized Lorette as the town’s oldest business with the same continuous owner.

“It’s been a good run,” he said. “I have no regrets. I’ve had a good life and made a lot of good friends.”

He said barbers are a dying breed. He doesn’t understand why more young people aren’t training to be barbers.

Lorette said he didn’t get rich, but was able to care for his family, which now includes five children, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

His son David said his father’s retirement is the end of an era.

“We used to meet Friday nights at the barber shop. We called them the ‘board meetings,'” he said. “There would be seven or eight people who would gather and tell jokes and talk politics. I think people are going to miss that the most, and of course the haircuts. But I’ll still get those.”

Lorette said he plans to sell items in his barbershop. His grandson wants the barber pole, sign and one of the barber chairs for his “man cave.”

He intends to keep his personal barber equipment just in case he gets bored.

But Lorette said he expects to keep busy. He and his wife plan to travel, and in October they will take an 11-day bus trip to New Orleans. He also loves to read.

If he does get bored, his wife said she has a list of chores to keep him busy.

“I’m going to take it day by day,” he said. “But I’m not going to do anything this summer.”

Mechele Cooper — 621-5663

[email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.