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Business Conversation: Over 50 Years of Hair Styling at Michel Coiffeurs

Ed Pignone has been cutting hair for 53 years at Michel Coiffeurs at 4 Central Street in Stoneham. He took the time to talk with Stoneham Patch about his lengthy career in town.

SP: You’ve probably seen so much come and go in this town, what has it been like to be a constant?

EP: The town has improved quite a bit over the years. Things were a lot different and it has improved considerably. It’s updated, this, that, the other. There are better businesses and it didn’t have much nightlife after 4:30 or 5 p.m. Local businesses closed early and very few places stayed open.

 SP: So it was kind of a ghost town?

EP: After 4:30 or 5 p.m., yeah. Primary businesses, drug stores and things like that, sure. But other businesses wouldn’t. There were only two beauty salons when I first opened up.

SP: Is that how you got into the business?

EP: No, I’m not from here, originally. Originally, I’m from Winchester, but I saw the opportunity to come into a town without a lot of hairdresser salons. But hairdressing has changed over the years.

 SP: How so?

EP: Years ago, it was a luxury item. People only came in for special occasions. But there are many, many more salons now then there were years ago. Now, it’s a necessity. At one time, because I came out of Downtown Boston, where my basic customer was the working girl. Then, I came up here, and my basic customer was the housewife. They would come on special occasions.

SP: When did you get into haircutting?

EP: I had a cousin who was in the business on Newbury Street in Boston and he convinced me to go give it a try. That was the furthest thing from my mind. That wasn’t the greatest impressionable job for a male in those days. Most of these salons were all women and very few actually hired a man. So he got me to try it and to be honest I hated going to school from day one.

 SP: Really?

EP: Oh yeah, and if it wasn’t for this elderly woman who was my first instructor, who would encourage me every day, I’d blow it off and go to the movies.

SP: No kidding?

EP: Yeah, well, because it wasn’t my bag.

SP: But this instructor got you into it.

EP: Yup. After a couple of months I started to get the hang of it and I started to like it. But for a bit there I kept asking myself, “Gee, what the heck am I doing here? This isn’t what I want to do.”

 SP: Are most of your clients women?

EP: No, we’re a unisex salon.

 SP: What’s the ratio?

EP: Probably 10 to one, women to men.

 SP: How did you manage to survive 50 plus years?

EP: Well, it was really tough. Again, this was a luxury. I had come from that downtown salon where it was busy every day to a salon here where once I had one customer in one day. I thought I made the biggest mistake of my life right there. I had to make it work. So because of that, at one point, 70 percent of my business came from outside of Stoneham. I built it up through word of mouth. I grew until I had 15 full time hairdressers here.

We were the biggest salon north of Boston at one point. As times have changed and the competition has grown, and also, I’m older so I don’t want the headaches anymore. This is a business where you have to be here all the time. That’s the core of the appointment business. I’ve been fortunate that my workers have been here a long time. I have hairdressers here that have been here 35 years, 30 years, 25 years, 20 years. And this is not the normal. Most hairdressers move around but it’s not the best thing for them to do. Every time you move, you start from day one again. My employees stay with me a long time.

It’s a very competitive business. If you were to go down Main Street to Redstone, I’ll bet you there are a minimum of 20 salons. Very competitive. Years ago, people had to travel a good while to find a good stylist. It took me a long time to build up a clientele. But now I have entire families come here for years. Some 30, 40 years. They keep coming back and they spread the word.

Who is the shop named after?

Just a name we picked at random and liked. I do have a daughter Michel, but the shop is older than she is. The reason why I didn’t put my name out there is because lots of times, people come in and ask for the person whose name is on the outside. They know nothing about that person, but if the shop is named after them, that’s who they’ll want to do their hair. I always felt that that was unfair to my employees.

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