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Barber Pete closes shop


Pete Sampson stands outside his former barber shop on Water Street in Carbonear late last month, with the familiar red, blue and white pole in the background.

It's a Tuesday afternoon in Carbonear and the sun is beaming down on the sidewalk, while the streets are bustling with traffic.

A yellow sign on the window of Sampson's Barbershop reads "OPEN" but there isn't much activity inside.

Opening the door and crossing the threshold presents a distinct scent of shaving cream, while the sound of men's voices mingle with the musky air.

The wooden paneled walls are bare, but left behind is the adhesive residue where pictures were once mounted. Looking around, the room feels cozy and the atmosphere is inviting.

Through an opening in a partition wall sits an older man with white hair in an antique white and black barber's chair. Upon closer inspection, a red and white striped cloth can be seen draping the man's shoulders.

Along the side of the chair, back on to the door, stands another man with salt and pepper hair.

Meet Pete Sampson.

Pete nimbly shaves the back of the man's neck with a straight razor, knowing it is one of the last times he will be doing so in this location.

On Saturday, April 27, Pete locks the door to his shop for a final time, ending an era that began in 1967 as the town's last traditional barbershop, located on Water Street, closes its doors.

The shop has been a staple in the town for two generations, and is recognized by the familiar red, white and blue striped barber's pole near the main entrance.

Memories sold

Sampson's was known across town for the unique memorabilia that lined the walls of the shop, but there is not much left on this day.

Stacked on the counter, under the mirror at Pete's workstation, are three big binders containing the photos that once presented themselves as a collage on the wall beside the barber's chair.

He scans the room, pointing at all the unique objects, including an old-fashioned phone, a pop bottle collection and the binders of photos, saying, "sold" when his finger meets each item.

He doesn't feel the need to keep everything since it's not the item that is important.

"That's all they are - memories," he says, noting he scanned and saved the images on a computer disc.

The few items not sold are the tools-of-the-trade, including some straight razors, scissors and more.

"I have only bought one razor during my life, and I have 14 in the drawer," he smiles, mentioning they have all been gifts.

Although many in the hair cutting business no longer use a straight razor, Pete uses one to remove the hair around clients' ears and neck. He hasn't shaved a beard in many years.

So many return customers

It isn't uncommon to see four different faces through the door in an hour at Sampson's. He whips through a haircut very quickly, leaving customers satisfied and returning time after time, according to a group of gentlemen in the waiting area on Thursday morning.

"I have been coming here for about 40 years," Warren Lynch of Upper Island Cove says.

Most are repeat customers, and some have been customers of Pete's since Day 1.

Randy Fitzgerald is one of the exceptions, having first visited Pete a year ago, after moving home to Carbonear. He looks forward to having his hair clipped by a barber, but realizes specialists like Pete are now very rare.

"It will be sad to see him leave," Fitzgerald, seated patiently off to the side, offers.

Health hindrances

Pete made a decision to close up his shop after 46 years in business when a few health issues limited his ability to work at the location. In 1999, Pete suffered a heart attack, and several years later he had a stroke that he blames on medication he was prescribed.

In more recent years, Pete had surgery on his knee and now walks with a cane.

It is his knee that has caused him the most grief, and one of the primary reasons he decided to close the shop.

"I'm after falling down a few times," he tells The Compass during his final Tuesday on Water Street.

Keeping memories

Pete has heard hundreds of stories and made too many memories to count in his 46 years, but a few images stick out in his mind.

He remembers a man from Bay de Verde who came to him for a haircut - one of his very first clients. They crossed paths again many years later, and the man approach Pete.

"He came over to me, smiling and said, 'do you remember me?'" Pete recalls.

Not only did he remember the man, he also remembered the style of cut he gave him.

"It was a brush cut," Pete quips.

Glancing at the window, he admits that giving up his routine will be difficult. Every morning as he enters and turns on the lights, he says, "Honey, I'm home" to the business he built with his own two hands.

Many of his clients have passed on, but he still has a loyal flock that visit his shop regularly.

"When some of my customers started coming here they had black hair. Now it's white," he smirks.

Some of those customers will continue to have their hair cut by Pete. He plans to carry on his business at his home in Harbour Grace, where his mobility challenges can be better managed.

"I would miss the conversation if I retire. That's why I don't want to retire," he says.

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