A Main Street Icon: Manchester Barber Shop
Nowadays at Manchester Barber Shop, you’ll find Pam Marvasti cutting hair at the chair closest to the door. That’s because, since June 2019, she’s been the owner of the barbershop, and has chosen to follow tradition.
“When you’re the new person, you start at the far end,” she said. “You have to work your way up. So that’s why I’m at the door, because I’m the owner now, so I’m at the head.”
Manchester Barber Shop was first opened in 1943 next door at 1101 Main Street by Joseph Barto, who had been cutting hair in Manchester since 1926. Since its move next door in the late ’50s, the barbershop has become a Manchester institution at 1099 Main Street, offering haircuts, beard trims, and head shaves.
The black and white photos on the wall of the barbershop reveal that much of this history has been preserved. The walls have been given a fresh coat of paint, but almost everything else remains the same. The original green and white floors still collect falling hair. The original chairs still swivel to face the waiting chairs, allowing those getting their hair cut to chat with those awaiting their turn. Marvasti has striven to keep that classic, old-school look that her customers have grown to love through the years.
“We’re still Manchester Barber Shop with a different facelift,” she said.
Marvasti grew up in nearby Vernon and started cutting women’s hair in 1983, a job she’d wanted to do since she was a child. After spending time in different salons, she became a stay-at-home mom to her children, moving to Manchester 26 years ago. The haircuts she did give at that time were for family.
But in 2009, she was invited to work at Manchester Barber Shop by Mark Poulin, son of the then-owner Norman Poulin. He taught Pam how to cut men’s hair for what she thought at the time would be a part-time thing. As the newest addition, she started at the chair farthest from the door.
“Like I said, I was just going to be part-time, but now I’m a full-time shop owner,” Marvasti said.
After Norman died in 2017, his son Mark decided to sell the shop. Not wanting to leave her customers and have them find a new barber, Marvasti decided to take over Manchester Barber Shop. Happy that a familiar face would be taking over, her customers stayed. What’s more, Marvasti also wanted the challenge.
“My kids went off to college. They all got married, my two girls, and I said I’m going to take the challenge,” she said. “I’m going to take this challenge, and I’m glad I did it now.”
Since taking over, she’s hired two more barbers, Michelle Bloniarz in 2019 and Deirdre Samiotis in 2021. For a long time, the barbershop had been running with two barbers, while decades ago it had up to five working at once. Bringing that number up to three had been a dream of hers, now accomplished with the arrival of Samiotis who occupies the farthest chair that Marvasti started in. Now, the three of them together have over 90 years of experience, and Manchester Barber Shop has become a rather unique female-owned and all-women-run barbershop, something that doesn’t put off her male customers now.
“Customers are excited to see that there are three women barbers here. They really are. They just think it’s the greatest thing to see that there are three women barbers.” Marvasti said. “When I started, yeah people were kind of shirking away from my chair saying ‘Eh not sure,’ but it’s not a problem now.”
Not all has been smooth sailing, however. Just six months into her ownership of the shop, the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, briefly bringing business to a halt and changing the way Marvasti had to do things.
“That’s when COVID set in and we had to close up for three months, so that was my biggest challenge,” Marvasti said. “And then reopening and following all the guidelines, and people were scared to come back, but I think customers are feeling a lot more comfortable because I’m very strict about my guidelines here still. We want to keep everybody safe and happy.”
Before the pandemic, the shop had been a walk-in-only barbershop. Walk-ins are still welcome, but appointments are now the usual way of doing things. Though it’s been an adjustment, Marvasti and long-time customers have ended up enjoying the change. In spite of COVID and changing times, the barbershop remains a gathering place for men to come and converse.
“Everybody has a hard time changing. That’s all the barbershop was. You walked in, you socialized with all the guys. But there’s enough socializing going on still. Couple guys will come in early to sit and just chat with you, and that’s what we like.”
With the transfer of ownership becoming less recent and the worst of the pandemic hopefully over, business is picking up with customers returning. Marvasti is dedicated to keeping those returning safely.
“I think seeing the vaccines coming out, people were feeling a lit bit more comfortable…” Marvasti said. “I require masks still in here if you’re vaccinated or not vaccinated. It’s just…I want everybody to feel comfortable. With a new owner taking over, it’s hard for some people but now I’m seeing some older clientele coming back to me so that’s good, but that had to do with COVID too.”
This desire to keep her customers safe goes hand in hand with the goal of the barbershop.
“To be the best barbershop in town. Have everybody coming in here feeling comfortable and welcome,” Dierdre Samiotis added after finishing up with the last customer of the day.
“Dierdre just said it all for me. We want to be the friendliest barbershop in town, and I think we are…to make everybody feel comfortable here like it’s their home,” Marvasti said.
But for right now that’s not the only goal Marvasti has set for herself and her shop.
“I would love to someday work up to bringing in a pedicure chair for the guys so they feel comfortable going and getting one in an all men’s shop. That would be cool, wouldn’t it? You don’t feel like you’re sitting there with all the ladies, you got your own little private shop. I would love to do that.”
For more than 70 years, Manchester Barber Shop has remained a place not just to get your hair cut, but also a place to meet and talk with both new and familiar faces. And Pam Marvasti is striving to keep it that way for the customers she loves. But what do you talk about?
“Barbers are like bartenders—you hear it all.”