COHOES — Shave and a haircut, two bits. That was about the price when Bernie Heroux started his barber shop in the Spindle City nearly 64 years ago.
After Heroux served in the U.S. Army for 3 1/2 years during World War II, he opened a shop on Van Schaick Island and charged 65-cents for his services, a little more than two-bits which is about 25 cents.
Nowadays, in his shop at 94 Remsen St., which caters to men and boys, a haircut alone is $9. Still, not a bad price considering the friendly service and years of experience.
The Waterford native, who turns 86 on Aug. 22, has had hundreds of customers — many of which have been clients since he first opened.
“I love it here,” said Heroux, who has been diagnosed and treated for two types of cancer, skin and prostate, and had open-heart surgery. Yet, he explained he has no plans to retire. “I can’t leave. I wouldn’t want to. I have too many friends who I see on a regular basis. I want to do this for at least another five years.”
Sonny Rolfe, who owns a sculpting business at 153 Ontario St., has not been going to the shop for all of it’s six decades, only a few years actually. But he has appreciated the work Heroux has done as a self-employed businessman, so Rolfe created a brick-sized sculpture to commemorate the shop being open since 1945.
“Bernie is a good friend,” said Rolfe, who usually gets a Mohican-style, Mohawk-like hair cut.
His sculpture incorporates an old brick with Cohoes written on it donated by Uncle John’s Diner in Cohoes and old barber clippers, some from the 1880s, donated by Bill Bissell from Mike’s Cut and Style in Watervliet. Bissell worked for Heroux for a dozen years before opening his own shop.
“He was really funny,” said Bissell who has since written a book about the experiences he had at the shop and the stories he heard while cutting hair. “He doesn’t shut up and he was a riot to work with. It was always jovial and he bent over backwards to make someone feel comfortable.”
Another helper at the shop told about a recent visit when a young boy asked Heroux when he started his career as a barber.
Heroux replied, “I was the first.”
More than a dozen friends and family members, including his daughter, Jackie, and wife, Philomena, packed his shop on Friday for the presentation of the sculpture.
Heroux, known for keeping a box of colorful pens near his door for his customers, became a barber because his mother suggested it. He followed in the footsteps of two of his uncles and took on an apprenticeship and eventually his own business.
“That’s my pen on there,” he said as he looked over the sculpture which also incorporated a pen as one of the mediums. The artwork now sits on a shop shelf between some old fashioned shampoos and tonics. “I use those to make people’s hair grow faster so they come back more often.”
Danielle Sanzone may be reached at 270-1292 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.