BIDDEFORD — There was already a line at the door when Roger Chretien arrived at his barbershop at 6:45 a.m. one day last week, cup of coffee in hand.

“Don’t get run over now,” his first customer called out as Chretien crossed an empty Main Street to Roger’s Barber Shop.

“I’ve been doing this awhile,” Chretien chuckled as he unlocked the door and flipped the light switch, just as he’s done every day for decades.

But this week was a little different.

Roger Chretien of Roger’s barbershop gets a hug from Lonny Martin of Scarborough after cutting his hair for the last time Thursday. Buy this Photo

After 54 years as a barber and cutting hair for generations of regular customers, Chretien retired Saturday. For weeks, he’s seen a steady stream of customers stop in for one last cut. Many have been coming to Chretien for decades.

“I’ve been here so long, people refer to me as the mayor of Main Street,” said Chretien, 72, of Saco.

Chretien, one of five children, grew up in Biddeford and attended St. Louis High School. As graduation approached, he was sitting in a barbershop on Main Street, watching the barber work and pondering his career options.

“I said, ‘I guess I can probably do that,'” Chretien said. “The rest is history.”

After graduation, Chretien attended a nine-month program at Hanson’s Barber School in Lewiston. His first job brought him home to Biddeford in August 1965 to work at Binette’s Barber Shop at the corner of Alfred and Bacon streets, around the corner from his current shop. In those days, a cut was $1.25.

Over the next decade, Chretien cut hair at Binette’s, a barbershop in the Thatcher Hotel and at a shop on Forest Avenue in Portland. On July 5, 1976, he returned to Biddeford to work with Ralph Vadnais, who had opened a barbershop at the corner of Main and Alfred streets eight years earlier.

The two men worked together at the hole-in-the-wall Ralph and Roger’s Barber Shop until Vadnais retired 12 years ago. In the early years, the barbershop opened at 6 a.m. to serve workers leaving the nearby mills after the third shift and those arriving for first shift.

Those mills closed years ago, along with the department stores that once made downtown Biddeford the retail center of York County. In recent years, Chretien watched from his shop as restaurants and breweries moved into Main Street storefronts and renovated mill buildings.

But not much has changed at the barbershop, where the barber’s pole still spins outside and children’s books are stacked on a bench under the window. Chretien painted the wood paneling and over time raised the price for a haircut to $14. Every year, he put new photos of his two grandchildren in frames on the shelf next to his mirror.

An old newspaper clipping of Roger Chretien, left and Ralph Vadnais of Ralph and Roger’s barbershop in Biddeford in 1976 is on display in Roger’s barbershop. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette Buy this Photo

And he still showed up early, chatting easily and laughing often with each of his customers. Over the buzz of clippers and clacking of scissors, they talked about all manner of things – city politics, sports, children and jobs. Chretien, spry and tan from his time on the golf course, moved quickly around them, stopping only occasionally for a break between customers.

By the time his shop officially opened at 7 a.m. last Thursday, Chertien already had his second customer of the day in the chair and three more reading the newspaper as they waited.

First in line was Ralph Croteau of Alfred, who has been coming to Chretien for 30 years. They talked about the new eight-man high school football teams and the chances that Biddeford would ever play Thornton Academy again, then hugged before Croteau left.

“You can talk to him about anything,” Croteau said. “When you come in here, it’s like ‘Cheers’ – everybody knows your name.”

Lonny Martin, the second customer of the morning, drove down from Scarborough for one last cut from Chretien – in the barbershop, at least.

“He’s still going to cut my hair, he just doesn’t know it yet,” Martin said. “He’s a good man. He’s very well liked and respected in the community.”

Over the past three years, Martin and Chretien have grown especially close, talking often about their lives and families. It’s those types of connections that Chretien has loved most about being a barber.

“I love people. I’ve had a strong bond with many people,” he said. “I’m a part-time therapist. They’ll come in when they’re having tough times and cry on my shoulder. I feel good about being able to do that for people.”

Chretien also enjoyed the art of barbering and took extra classes and seminars over the years. There aren’t many traditional barbers left, his customers say, and that’s one of the things they appreciate about Chretien.

“This is a lost art. Not many people do this anymore,” Chretien said as he leveled out the flattop of Ken Mason of Arundel, who has come to the barbershop every week for the past decade.

“We’re losing an actual barber,” Mason lamented as he stepped out of the barbershop. “All the old-school barbers are gone.”

Roger Chretien, longtime barber on Main Street in Biddeford cuts the hair of Ryan Parker at Roger’s Barbershop. “This is a downtown area. Parking will always be a minor issue,” Chretien said. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

It’s that “old-school traditional style” that fellow barber Nate Foran said he has come to appreciate about Chretien. Foran, 19, bought the business from Chretien and will run it as Apex Barber Shop, continuing a 100-year tradition of having a barbershop in that location on Main Street.

“It’s an honor,” Foran said of working beside Chretien. “I’ve been watching him do this my whole life.”

Chretien gave Foran his first haircut when the younger man was still in diapers. Foran remembers fondly picking out a Charms Blow Pop after his haircuts, a tradition Chretien continued to his last day.

“God forbid we ran out of sour apple,” said Chretien, who later gave three lollipops to a longtime customer who wanted to bring his now grown children one last Blow Pop from Roger’s.

Leaving all this – the shop overlooking Main Street, the customers who have become friends – is bittersweet for Chretien. He’s sad, he said, but also ready for other things.

Chretien plans to spend his time playing lots of golf and pickle ball, taking walks and visiting Florida in the winter. Next month, he’ll take his first trip to New York City, where he plans to see the Empire State Building, climb the Statue of Liberty and bring his girlfriend to see “Wicked” on Broadway.

That, he thinks, will help ease the transition out of his barbershop and into retirement.

“Roger the barber is my identity. Now I’m giving that up. It’s going to be a little difficult, but I’ll manage,” Chretien said. “Saturday noon I’m out of here. Packing this chair up and we’re going home.”


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