What is the difference between a good haircut and a bad one?
“Two weeks,” chuckles Lorne Metzger, longtime customer and good friend of local barber Don Schell who, after almost 50 years of service to the Elmira community, is hanging up his barbering jacket and setting down his scissors. “It’s a chapter that has come to a close,” said Schell to his daughter Lisa Williams.
Metzger has had his hair cut by Schell for more than 15 years: he would always leave the shop happy after a visit. He noted that Schell does not have ‘an enemy in the world’ and that his ability to make people smile is remarkable.
“No matter how busy he was one day or how slow, he would always make the time for you and pay careful attention to each person.”
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Direct from barbering school, Don came to Elmira in 1960 and joined a group of six or seven men, all of whom barbered within Elmira in the 1960s and ’70s. Over the last few decades, this group has dwindled leaving Don the last man standing. At the age of 68, the time has come for him to move on as well.
Don started his career with Jack Johnson at Johnson Barbering and Pool Hall, located where the photo lab is today. This establishment housed three barbers in the front and a pool hall in the back. It was here that Don first met some customers, like Metzger, who still remain with him today.
Schell, who is a familiar face around town and at the Elmira Donut and Deli, where he stops in for lunch several times a week, can be called a friend by a wide range of people in the township.
“Whether the person in his chair was the guy sweeping the streets or a businessman, it didn’t make any difference to him: he treated them all the same,” said Metzger.
From Johnson Barbering and Pool Hall, Don moved to Gordon McLennan’s establishment at 47 Arthur St. S. This was where Don first hung his own sign in 1964 and began his own business – Don Schell Barbering Salon. Ironically, these days you will find him at the same address most Sunday mornings, as it is the current location of Zion Mennonite Fellowship.
During these early years, Don met his wife, Eva, who was working as a waitress at the Edgewood Restaurant on Arthur Street North. They married in 1966 and raised their family of five girls in Elmira. “Elmira sure has changed over the last 50 years,” Don reflected to Williams. “A lot of business places have changed and more people have arrived because of growth. This community is still a great place to work and raise a family.”
And Schell did his own fair share of moving around. After yet another move, he set up shop at 11 Arthur St. N., the location of today’s Shoppers Drug Mart property, and remained at this location for 25 years. Interestingly, Don found himself cutting hair in the very building where he had met his wife, the former Edgewood Restaurant building. Most recently, Don has been at 8 Arthur St. S., where his career has now come to a close.
But for some members of the community, a haircut and a chat with Schell was available in their very own home. Paying visits to customers at nursing homes, those who were ill, and those who had difficulty in travelling downtown were reasons enough for Don to take his barbering case and scissors to his customers.
“I used to come downtown on my scooter,” recalled customer and local businessman, Aden M. Bauman. “It was sometimes hard to get there due to weather, and actually became somewhat difficult to get into the barbering chair. It was just wonderful when Don would come to the house – it made it so much easier for me.”
Known for his rapport with his customers, Don continues to tease those he meets with his good natured wit and humour – a trait which has touched all who have sat in his barbering chair.
“Whenever a group of us are in (the barber shop), and there is always a group in there because it was usually quite busy, he always found a way to have a laugh, or to make a joke,” noted longtime customer and friend Ernie Martin.
Now Schell is facing one of the challenges he himself has helped people through, as he is being treated for cancer. Although his prognosis is good, his treatment has gone well and he is scheduled for surgery in the next month, he has found it difficult to give up his position as barber and friend to many. On display in his home is a card covered in many signatures and well wishes from his customers and friends, without a blank space to be seen.
When asked what he wanted to say to his customers, he replied, “It has been good these past 49 years but I realized that it was time to make this change. Thanks for your many years of coming in.”
With a submission from Lisa Williams, Don’s daughter.