CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - Ray Martin wants to make it clear – he isn’t retiring.
He’ll continue cutting hair four times a week in the same chair at Ray’s Place Barber on Kent in Charlottetown as he’s done countless times before.
But Martin, 73, is no longer running the popular barbershop he started in 1973.
Effective Jan. 1, Martin has passed on ownership of the business to his daughter Rhonda Myers, who has cut hair at the shop beside her dad for the past 24 years.
“Hopefully, they’ll let me stay here,” Martin said with a smile and a glance at Myers. “I’m just a worker bee.”
On Nov. 5, Martin celebrated his 55th year as a barber.
“Every man should be so lucky. Simple as that,” he said.
Originally from Yarmouth, N.S., Martin trained to be a barber in Boston.
When he returned to Yarmouth the job market for barbers was slow. So he decided to give Charlottetown a try for five months and “see what happens.”
Like many newcomers, Martin never left and made the Island his permanent home.
He got his first job cutting hair at Oliver (Ollie) Harper’s barbershop on Queen Street. At the time, haircuts had just gone up to $1, he recalled.
Martin worked at Ollie’s for 10 years, and then opened his own shop in April of 1973 on Queen Street where the Bookmark is currently located. Money was tight and he was supporting a young family.
“I was terrified. I remember laying on the couch and my stomach was just going around in circles. That was it. There was nowhere else to run. If that didn’t work, I was in trouble,” he said.
The morning of the shop’s opening, Martin still hadn’t settled on a name. His wife went to the hardware store to buy some gold stick-on letters for the shop’s name.
“Get Ray’s Place, and then we’ll figure out what we’re going to call it after. But just for today or this week or whatever, we’ll call it Ray’s Place,” he recalled. “It wasn’t supposed to be the name forever.”
In 1978, a year before the newly built Confederation Court Mall opened, Martin moved the business to Kent Street.
“I was terrified because I wasn’t on Dizzy Block,” he explained.
But as it turned out, the move to Kent Street was better for customers because of the availability of parking spaces compared to Queen Street.
He stayed there for 10 years, and then in 1998, moved the shop next door to its current location at 102 Kent St.
Martin convinced Myers to take a hairdressing course when she finished high school and work with him for a couple of years until she figured out what she wanted to do with her life.
Myers remembers having a bit of a rough start to her career. She admits she wasn’t very talkative with customers. But as time went on, things started to click.
It took about five years to build her clientele.
Customers began waiting for Myers for a haircut, even when Martin was available.
Martin explains it this way: “When the student surpasses the master, the master has succeeded.”
In May, the shop went through some renovations so Myers could make the place her own. She’s also expanded the shop’s name to Ray’s Place Barber on Kent since some newcomers may not realize that Ray’s Place is a barbershop.
Myers has made a few other changes, such as Wi-Fi and a television for customers in the waiting area. The goal of having a television is hopefully to have customers look away from their phones and strike up a conversation, she said.
One item that stands out in the shop is the 1895 barber chair Martin bought from longtime Charlottetown barber Joe Dykens about 15 years ago. Martin bought two chairs, but only one is refinished. The chair reclines and is used for hot towel shaves.
Myers isn’t planning any major changes. The plan is to continue doing the things that has made the business successful – a good location, hard work, good pricing and really good staff. Other keys to success are making customers feel comfortable and making a connection with them.
“Building relationships – I think we got that,” said Myers.
She admits she’s come a long way from the quiet new barber to the shop’s new owner 24 years later.
“I look forward to tomorrow because I have no idea who’s going to come in or what I’m going to see or what conversation I’m going to have. I can’t wait,” she said.
Over the years, Martin has seen a variety of hairstyles come and go. But he says the oddest ones that became a trend were the undercut and the mushroom cut.
“Every one I ever did, I hated it,” he said with a laugh. “It was awful.”
Martin also laughs when he’s asked who cuts his hair.
“The second best barber in Charlottetown,” he said, motioning to Myers.
“I haven’t divulged all of my secrets.”