That’s the question Mike McGuire, 73, and Ted Ritchie, 76, counter with when people ask the men why they are still cutting hair.
The faces behind Mike and Ted’s Barber Shop still love what they do, and love the social element of being old-fashioned barbers.
Make no mistake, they aren’t “stylists.” In fact, they put up quite the fuss a couple of years ago when the provincial government altered licensing provisions that put barbers in line with hairstylists.
But when it comes to clipping follicles, they don’t plan on stopping any time soon. To them, running their King Street East barber shop beats being retired and going to a coffee shop each day.
“This is way better than a coffee shop. There, we’d have to listen to people complain. Here, we listen to folks brag about their experiences in life,” Ted said.
As is typical for many an old-school barber shop, men wander in regularly, not all of them for a haircut. The shop is a social gathering point.
“We have a lot of customers who just come down and sit and talk,” Ted said.
Add to that the fact Mike and Ted have a big screen TV hooked up to an Android Box and have movies and high-energy TV shows playing all day, and you have more of a rec room environment than a business atmosphere. The guys may not have recliners, but barber chairs are quite comfortable seats.
“We have a fellowship with a lot of the older gentlemen of Chatham,” Ted said.
They’ve built that client base up over the years, cutting one generation’s hair after another.
These guys are veterans of the cutting wars. Ted started in 1959, when John Diefenbaker was our prime minister and Dwight D. Eisenhower was president of the United States. Mike, the young buck in this tandem, started in 1961.
Ted said his first job with his scissors was at the William Pitt Hotel, and it began as a bit of a trial by fire. He said the man who hired him was driving them both to work on Ted’s first day and got into a car accident.
“I had to go in and open the shop. It was my first day!”
Ted has cut hair in various locations in town over the years, including Richmond Street, and on St. Clair.
“I bounced all over the damned place and then I connected with Mike,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mike worked out of his location at the Thames Lea Plaza for 35 years.
“It was very good there. I was the second business in that mall and I was just 19 years old,” he said.
Mike said he also worked for a year at the army barracks in London, but all of the hair cutting was the same.
“It was like peeling onions all day.”
Mike and Ted have been working together for more than a decade, although they’ve known each other for many more years than that. It’s more than just a working relationship.
“We’re the best of friends. We run around together,” Mike said.
Ted took it one step further.
“We’re like brothers.”
These guys have such a tight friendship that they even fall ill together. Ted had to have triple bypass surgery and now has a pacemaker, which was installed about three months ago.
Mike also has had a bypass – another triple.
“Ted had it done so I had to have it done,” he joked.
Both also have type 2 diabetes.
As for “real” jobs, the two admitted they dabbled, but nothing really stuck.
“I went to work at (International) Harvester for 28 days,” Ted said. “We’re just too social for places like that.”
As for Mike, he left the hair cutting business and taught martial arts for a time.
“When barbering got bad (when everyone had long hair) I started to teach martial arts. I got sued after a student fell and hurt himself,” he said. “That ended my karate career.”
The barbers have some help in the shop. John Charron has been with them for the past four plus years. His assistance is invaluable.
“John looks after us and sweeps and shovels,” Ted said.
“We can’t get him to cut hair,” Mike quipped.
But if an elderly client needs help getting his coat on, John’s right there.
“He walks them out to their cars too,” Mike added.
Their close ties with their customers is a mutual friendship that borders on family. In fact, when a customer passes away, it’s like losing a family member.
“Our customers are like our family. They’ve been with us 30-40 years,” Mike said. “When one goes, it’s just like someone in your family goes.”
They hear tales of people who retire and pass away soon after. They say these folks often don’t have any hobbies.
“This is our hobby,” Ted said.
So, as for hanging up their clippers and scissors, it won’t happen anytime soon.
“Our retirement is Mike and Ted’s Barber Shop,” Ted said.