NEW HAVEN — An iconic business in New Haven has closed its doors, not because of economic woes as so many nowadays, but due to the owner’s retirement.
After cutting hair for the past 67 years, barber Howard J. “Pete” Burris has decided to lay down his scissors and razor. His last day of business was March 22.
Stepping into Pete’s shop is like stepping into Floyd’s Barber Shop in Mayberry from “The Andy Griffith Show.” It was built by Pete’s father, Howard K. Burris, in 1934 and has served as a local hangout for many people over the years. Three nostalgic black and white barber chairs take up the center of the room. Mirrors line one wall, while memories marked by photos and newspaper clippings line the remaining ones.
Even though Pete will be 85 years old in July, his memory is impeccable. His retirement has nothing to do with his age, or his ability to cut hair. It has more to do with knee problems he is now experiencing.
Pete attended barber college in Wheeling. He can recall the day he left New Haven (March 1, 1947) and the school’s address (1420 Market St.).
Pete rode the train back home on weekends, often visiting his dad’s barber shop. One weekend, a patron of his dad’s, Fronnie Litchfield, was in a hurry to get to the livestock auction in Point Pleasant. Even though Pete wasn’t due to graduate for another month, Litchfield asked him to cut his hair, thus becoming Pete’s first paying customer.
After graduation, Pete continued working with his dad for 41 years. Haircuts were 35 cents when Pete started, but rose shortly after his return.
“I remember people kidded dad that when I came home, he had to raise his prices,” Pete said. “When cuts went to $5, dad and I couldn’t believe it.”
At the time Pete stopped cutting hair a few weeks ago, he was charging $8, which is still lower than in some surrounding areas.
There were no beauty shops in the Bend Area when Pete began his career. Along with men and boys, Pete cut a lot of women’s hair, a tradition that remained until just weeks before his retirement.
All of Pete’s books were kept by hand. Each customer was noted on paper, only by the price of the service that was received. Pete kept his figures daily, weekly and monthly, even tracking his tips to be reported to the IRS.
Pete has cut the hair of at least five — possibly six — generations of Bend Area families, although he isn’t quite sure of that. He wanted to thank all of his former customers for their patronage throughout the years.
Family is important to Pete, and many of the stories he tells are about them. Not only were Pete and his father barbers, he had four uncles who also were barbers, and two aunts who were beauticians.
Barbering wasn’t Pete’s only job though. He sold cars part-time for 32 years. His wife, Betty, is a retired Mason County school teacher, and they have three children, Joe, Becky and the late John.
As for future plans, Pete is a little unsure. He said he might hang a sign on the front door that reads “Information,” and spend an hour or two a day at the shop. If you see his white pickup truck in the driveway, stop in. You won’t get a haircut, but you are sure to hear a good story or two.