Barber who cut into a man's world retires after 4 decades

Friday is Cindi MacPherson's last day behind the chair of the Halifax barbershop she owns. She reminisces about breaking into a male-dominated profession in the 1970s and the loyal clients she will miss.

'It's been a great ride for me and I am going to be sorry to see it go,' says Halifax's Cindi MacPherson

Cindi MacPherson has been working at the Starlite Barber Shop for 42 years. (Emma Davie/CBC)

When Cindi MacPherson first started cutting hair in the 1970s, men didn't want her working in a barbershop.

She was turned down for jobs, and even her own father refused to tell people she was a barber, calling her a "hairdresser" instead.

"They wouldn't hire a woman," MacPherson said.

"And it wasn't because they didn't think women knew what they were doing, it was just a men's business. You went to a barber shop, it was man talk and sports and all that. And it just seemed like women didn't have a place there."

Undeterred, MacPherson forged ahead.

Four decades later, she is now retiring from the profession she loves and bidding farewell to the Halifax barbershop she owns. Friday is her last day standing behind the chair, scissors in hand, at Starlite Barber Shop on Bayers Road.

Cindi MacPherson cuts Gary Armstrong's hair in her last week at the Starlite Barber Shop. (Emma Davie/CBC)

MacPherson started at Starlite 42 years ago when she was hired by then-owner Peter Cooke. Early on, one client —  whose hair MacPherson still cuts today — sat in her chair and asked if she had children. She told him yes.

"He said, 'Well maybe you should be home looking after your children, because you're taking a job from men,'" MacPherson said.

"And I just looked at him and I said, 'Sir, if I could be at home with my children that's exactly where I'd be.' And he still comes in and we laugh about it all the time."

The original shop was opened in the late 1950s by brothers from Fairview. In the early 70s, it was sold to Cooke. MacPherson took over after his sudden death in 2010.

The Starlite Barber Shop will live on with a new name after about 60 years in Halifax. (Emma Davie/CBC)

MacPherson didn't want to see Starlite's legacy fade away once she retired to spend more time with her 10 grandchildren, but she tried unsuccessfully for months to sell the little shop to a new barber.

As fate would have it, MacPherson said two Syrian men stopped in for a haircut last week after coming from the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia building next door.

"It was very lucky. The gentleman that came in, he was sitting here getting his hair cut, and he said, 'Every time I find a barber they close on me.' And I kind of giggled … I said, 'Well this place is closing too. And he said, 'Oh no!'"

The pair also happened to be barbers themselves, MacPherson said, and a few days later they came back with an offer to buy her shop. Starlite will close, but a new barber shop is expected to open some time in January.

Armstrong has been coming to the Starlite Barber Shop for 30 years. (Emma Davie/CBC)

MacPherson said she'll miss the loyal clients who have been coming to her chair for decades.

"They're like family, as you can see when you walk in, it's like that 50 per cent of the time, laughing and carrying on," she said.

Gary Armstrong has been a client of MacPherson's for 30 years. He was getting his last haircut at the Starlite on Wednesday and said he kept coming back to the same chair because he was always happy with the results.

"The secret is knowing how to cut such wiry hair," he said, chuckling.

MacPherson said she'd recommend the barber shop business to anybody.

"It's been a great ride for me and I am going to be sorry to see it go," she said. 

"It's kind of just like paying it forward for me, even though they are changing the name. So this is going to be the end of the Starlite Barber Shop, but it is going to continue on as another shop."