For roughly six decades, the miniature building at 575 Westbrook St. in the Redbank area of South Portland served as a busy barbershop close to Clarks Pond, the airport, and eventually the Maine Mall. The first barber business located there was established in 1948 by George Stoehr, who had just moved to the Libbytown section of Portland along with his wife Sarah and their two youngest children, Robert (Bob) and Elsa.

Before that, George had been the town barber of Oxford, Maine, for almost three decades. He originally learned the art of hair-cutting at a Lewiston funeral parlor and his shop in Oxford also served as a pool parlor and candy store. Six of George’s daughters (including two Bates College graduates) had already left town for greener pastures. He was soon prompted by his wife to move to Portland to make it easier for their adult children to visit them. And so in 1948, George purchased a large house at 1169 Congress St. and, shortly thereafter, the tiny building in Redbank village in South Portland.

Redbank Barber Shop, 575 Westbrook St., circa 1957, was operated by George and Bob Stoehr. South Portland Historical Society photo

For many years, George, who never drove a car, would take the first bus in the morning from Libbytown to Redbank, keep the shop open until 11 p.m., and then take the last bus back home. A few years later, George’s son Bob would learn his father’s vocation after being assigned to serve as one of the ship barbers aboard the USS Bennington, an aircraft carrier, during the Korean War. Not long after returning home to Portland, he was invited by his father to go to work with him in Redbank and they barbered together for almost two decades.

Bob would later build a small addition to the original shop in order to accommodate more seating for waiting customers.

Dad and son were natural jokesters and storytellers and they entertained many a South Portlander while cutting their hair. They kept toys and jars of candy and children’s books on hand for the youngsters who were brought there. The one-room business usually smelled of witch hazel and Bay Rum aftershave and tobacco. Smoking was allowed (and practiced) indoors in those days, even in the smallest of businesses. The barbers smoked as well and left their Pall Malls and Tareytons burning in the ashtray as they tended to their clients.

George and Bob Stoehr, father and son barbers. South Portland Historical Society photo

Just as George’s Oxford shop had become a hub of conversation and political debate and amateur comedy, so did the Redbank shop. Bob once said that his father George would hear a story told by a customer in the morning and, by the end of the workday, his dad would have re-told the story a dozen times in a dozen different ways and the final version would barely resemble the first.

Bob also said that he and his father had once listened to two customers engaged in an angry political quarrel during their haircuts. By the time that the clients had finished quarreling, the two men discovered that they were both die-hard Republicans.

Sadly, George’s wife Sarah died of liver cancer in December of 1956 at the age of 60 after having raised nine children. Soon thereafter, George’s house was bought by the state for the construction of the on-ramp to 295. He then took up residence in a small apartment in Redbank village while Robert and his wife bought a house and raised a family in the Thornton Heights neighborhood less than a mile away.

By the early 1960s, Bob had been asked by the nearby Boys Training Center to work one day a week cutting the hair of the resident male teenagers, many of whom were juvenile delinquents who had been sent to the center for education and moral reform.

Bob Stoehr first worked as a barber while serving in the U.S. Navy. South Portland Historical Society photo

By the early 1970s, George, now in his late 70s, retired from full-time barbering and yet worked in the shop one day a week so that he could stay in touch with his regular customers and friends. It was around this time that Bill Hughes, the superintendent of the state-funded Maine Youth Center (formerly the Boys’ Training Center and later the Long Creek Youth Development Center), asked Bob whether he might like to work full-time at the center as a vocational instructor in cosmetology.

Bob accepted the offer and began teaching and barbering at the center. His father, ever the droll comedian, began referring to him as “The Professor.”

Bob soon sold the barbershop to Ronnie Strout who originally hailed from Portland. After marrying, Ronnie had moved to the Springfield area of Massachusetts where he ran a variety store and then a barbershop. He returned to the Portland area in 1971, soon purchased the Redbank business from the Stoehr team, and ran Ronnie’s Barbershop for the next 33 years. He eventually retired and sold the business to another barber who had a short tenure there. Ronnie and his family had lived for decades in the nearby Thornton Heights neighborhood, only a few streets over from Robert and his family. Bob sometimes filled in for Ronnie on Saturdays when the current owner of the shop needed a day off.

George Stoehr barbering in Oxford in 1942. South Portland Historical Society photo

Bob taught cosmetology at the Maine Youth Center until the 1990s. Earlier in his career, he had also taught part-time at Pierre’s School of Beauty on Congress Street in Portland. He then barbered at the Falmouth Shopping Center barbershop and eventually at Gentlemen’s Choice on Meeting House Hill (along with long-time local barbers Arthur Gonyea, Jr. and Bill Cyr).

Bob passed away from lung cancer in February of 2010 at the age of 78. His father George died in August of 1985 at the age of 91. The small building at 575 Westbrook St. was eventually renovated, with gray siding added to its exterior. It still stands there, right across from a large new apartment complex and just down the street from the Brick Hill residential complex which stands on the site of the former Maine Youth Center.

Note: If you enjoy reading about South Portland history, please consider a donation to South Portland Historical Society to help support its mission of preserving local history. Donations can be made through our Online Museum website at https://sphistory.pastperfectonline.com, or if you’d prefer to donate by check, please make it payable to South Portland Historical Society and mail to us at 55 Bug Light Park, South Portland, ME 04106. Thank you. If you need to contact the society, we can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 207-767-7299.

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