Barbering bloodline: Hair-cutting a life choice for family
COBLESKILL For the Madelone family barbering isn’t just a profession, it’s a legacy.
Cicero “Peter” Madelone, 86, began his barbering career in the Navy during World War II aboard a Landing Ship, Tank (LST) that carried combat troops and equipment into war zones.
“Ship’s captain wanted someone to cut hair for the 133 crew members on the ship,” said Madelone. “When he found out I was already cutting the men’s hair he came to me and said, ‘Madelone, I see you like cutting hair.’ I told him I loved it, so he asked me if I wanted to be the ship’s barber and then said to charge each man 25 cents for a haircut, which I was allowed to keep.”
He was 17, and that was the start of his barbering venture. When he got out of the Navy he spent nine months in barber school learning all aspects of the profession, got his barber’s license and began working in a barber shop in Scotia, then in a shop in Schenectady, eventually opening his own business in the city and later moving to his current shop, “Hair Artistry by Madelone,” on Curry Road in Rotterdam. He’s been cutting hair for 68 years.
In those early years, barbershops were crowded with customers — served by several barbers whose grooming included haircut, shampoo, shave, beard trim and facial massage.
Madelone was a member of the now defunct Schenectady Barber’s Local Union, which set haircut prices for its members and offered them group health
insurance and other benefits. Haircut prices in the 1950s ranged from $1.25 for a boy’s haircut to $1.50 for men; $1 for a shave and $1.50 for a facial.
By the 1960s, however, barbering changed radically, from the popular crew cut or pompadour of the 1950s to the shaggy layered mop-top.
Though older patrons favored the more conservative short hairstyles of their era, younger men began to sport longer styles of popular rock artists such as the Beatles. So to keep pace with the changes in hairstyling, Madelone attended a seminar to learn the new styling techniques.
“It cost me $77 for the seminar to learn how to do these new cuts, over the ears, below the ears, somewhat pulled back, somewhat layered,” said Madelone.
Over the years, he’s trained or apprenticed many family members in the art of cutting hair. His son Kevin, 50, recalls how as a child he used to watch his father working in his barbershop and thought he, too, wanted to become a barber someday.
“When I was around 8 I would come to the shop and shine shoes for some of the customers,” he said, noting he still has the shoeshine kit.
His sister Maria also became interested in hair styling. So they both pursued careers in cutting hair.
Wanting to join their father and expand his business, Kevin and his sister, after learning the basics of hair cutting from their father, enrolled in barbering and cosmetology school. They returned to his barbershop to offer full-service unisex hair styling, cutting and styling both men’s and women’s hair. Cicero, however, just did barbering. Maria left the business in 1987 and Kevin continued working in his father’s shop, later focusing only on barbering.
In 2005, Kevin opened his own barbershop, “Kevin’s Barbering & Styling Shop,” on South Grand Street in Cobleskill. He still cuts hair part of his workweek in his father’s shop.
Kevin Madelone’s son, Kevin Jr., 21, whose interest in barbering also began when he was a child, joined his father in his Cobleskill shop three years ago.
“My son liked watching me cut hair and be around his grandfather, too, from the time he was around 5 years old,” said Kevin. “I’d let him hold the scissors and he’d practice on a mannequin. When he graduated from high school he said he would really like to become a barber.”
So Kevin Jr., after learning the basic skills for cutting hair from his father, enrolled in barber school, got his license and is carrying on a family tradition.
in the blood
When necessary, grandfather, father and son help each other out in their barbershops. Kevin’s wife Elizabeth, a licensed cosmetologist, also cuts hair part time in the Rotterdam shop.
“We seem to have what makes it work for us,” said Kevin. “I guess you could say it’s in the blood. We all seem to have an artistic talent when it comes to knowing what looks good on a person.”
Moreover, he said, barbering requires more than just skill in cutting and styling. “You need to be a good conversationalist and able to make people feel comfortable. You develop an intimacy with your customers and they sometimes talk about very personal things and trust you will keep what they say confidential.”
Often the barbershop is a meeting place, where friends and acquaintances that haven’t seen each other for a while get to swap stories.
“From all walks of life they come in here and talk about what guys like to talk about,” said Kevin. “They tell you exactly what’s on their mind. It’s like a town hall meeting when local officials come into either my father’s shop or mine.”
He added, “The social aspect of barbering, interacting with people on a daily basis, and the close relationship I have with my father and son has given me the greatest satisfaction. There’s no doubt my father is proud that his son and grandson are following in his footsteps.”
Kevin Jr. agreed. “It’s an honor for me to know my grandfather is glad we’re carrying on the tradition by choosing barbering as a career. It’s also great meeting and cutting hair of people who have been coming to my grandfather’s and father’s barbershops for years.”