Nfld. & Labrador

After 115 years in business, this St. John's barbershop is poised to make its last snips

Christmas Eve will have a bittersweet meaning for Rick Harris this year. On that day, he will also shut down Harris's Barbershop, a family business that has been cutting hair for well over a century.

'When the time came, I'd know,' says owner

Rick Harris stands next to the original cash register that his father bought in 1905 when opening Harris's Barbershop. (Cec Haire/CBC)

The clipper is buzzing, the scissors cutting, the phone is ringing off the hook.

Rick Harris is busy at work, but won't be much longer. On Christmas Eve, he's closing the doors of Harris's Barbershop in St. John's, bringing an end to a family business that was founded 115 years ago. 

"I always said, 'When the time came, I'd know.' I'm starting to feel a bit tired, a bit weary of it all. So I figure it's time to go while I still got a bit of health and strength and enjoy a bit of life," Harris said, while looking after the hair of a longtime customer.

Richard Harris, his father, started the business in 1905, and over the years the shop has operated from several parts of downtown St. John's. It was originally located on New Gower Street, then moved to nearby Brazil Square in April 1977 before ultimately settling on Casey Street, where it's been since 1984.

Harris owns and operates the business, where it all began for him as a boy sweeping the floors of his father's shop. He was later promoted to a barber at 18 — 54 years ago.

"I'm not going to be around until I'm 96 like my dad was, so I better do it now."

Photos hang on the wall of Harris's Barbershop from years past. Richard Harris, left, always had a chess game going. (Cecil Haire/CBC)

Harris looks back on the legacy of his family business as it crossed through generations of customers. He said people were less open to talking about their personal lives while sitting in his chair in the old days. 

And the esthetic was drastically different than what it is today. 

"There was all kinds of cigarette smoke, and cigar smoke and tobacco smoke, rum. It was all part of the barbershop," he said. 

"It was more of a family affair really. I think our shop was the place to go, basically. It was a hang out.… That was one thing we always had, was a good bunch of people around the shop."

There was constantly a game of chess happening, Harris remembers, a game his father studied and played against his customers who ranged from United States service members to whaling boat captains. 

WATCH | Rick Harris reflects on his decision to wind down a family business that has been a mainstay in downtown St. John's for well over a century: 

Final cut: This St. John's barbershop will soon close

2 years ago
Duration 3:39
Cec Haire visited Harris's Barbershop, which has been offering haircuts in downtown St. John's since 1905

Today he feels sadness, Harris said, but contentment as the legacy is slowly drawing to its end. 

"I don't know what I'll do with my time, but I guess I'll find something," he said. 

A final sendoff

Harris estimates he cuts about 5,000 heads of hair in a typical year, and says he's cut five generations of hair in one family.

As Harris looks to throw the switch and lock the doors for the last time on Christmas Eve, his final customer after a long career makes for a proper sendoff. 

Harris's Barbershop sits on Casey Street today, but opened on New Gower Street in 1905. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

His final cut will be for Randy Gulliver, the son of his first-ever customer.

"I was probably five or six years old [when] I started going to Harris's," Gulliver told CBC News. 

"It was back in the early '60s. Rick's father was the first one who cut my hair. The first haircut that Rick ever cut was my dad's, I think around 1966 or '67.… I was only a small boy. We lived on Brazil Square and it was just around the corner."

Gulliver said the shop had four barber's chairs when he first started going, and he's been going to the Harris family business for haircuts his entire life, in each location, up until what will be his final cut on Dec. 24.

The barber chair inside Harris's Barbershop will see its last customer on Dec. 24. (Cecil Haire/CBC)

He said the Harris family were the only people to ever cut his hair. 

"I don't know what I'm going to do when he moves," Gulliver said, laughing. "I'm going to have long hair.… It will be a sad day to see Rick give up the barbershop, let me tell you."

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