Bob Romano, Hanover Barber, Is Not the Retiring Type
Bob Romano started barbering at age 22 in East Boston in his dad’s barber shop before opening his own. Romano opened a shop in Hanover in 2000 when he moved to the area with his wife for her new job. He has now been cutting hair for 50 years. (Valley New - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
While cutting the hair of Mike Witthaus of Claremont, Bob Romano told the story of an old client from his Boston days who tried to color his hair black with Kiwi shoe polish. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Barber Bob Romano, right, and his customer Ed Tober of Hanover throw insults and jokes at each other in Romano’s Hanover Haircutters shop last week. “He helps to make my day and I help to make his day I’m sure,” said Tober. “I don’t think there’s ever a word between us that doesn’t evoke a smile or a laugh.” (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Bob Romano works on a cut for Michael Taylor of Hanover, his second of three appointments in a row with men named Michael. Romano still uses a straight razor to clean up around the ears and neck then finishes with a hot towel, Taylor's favorite part of the experience. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Bob Romano sweeps up the hair in his Hanover shop between customers. Romano, who once owned a barber shop in East Boston now works together with three hairdressers. "Women would not even come in the shop unless they were bringing a child in," he remembers. "It was a man's sanctuary, it really was." (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
In Boston, where Bob Romano grew up, they call him, simply, Romano, emphasis on the second syllable, drawn out on a breath of air. But in Hanover, where he owns Hanover Haircutters, his clients call him Bob.
Bob Romano has been a barber for 50 years. It runs in the family: his paternal great-uncle, a Mr. Colucci of Avellino, Italy, was a barber who had five sons who became barbers. And those sons’ children, girls and boys both, grew up to become barbers. The Romanos were in the shoe business back in Naples, but once in the U.S., Colucci (whose first name eludes Bob Romano) taught the barber trade to Bob Romano’s father, Principio. And Principio passed it on to his son. From Naples to Boston to New Hampshire, with some stops in between.
Hanover Haircutters is on the top floor of the Hanover Park building on Lebanon Street. It’s a relatively small shop that Romano opened in the early 2000s, after working at Big Green Cuts. But he has a long history in the business, starting when he was a kid at his father’s shops in the Boston area, sweeping floors and doing the occasional shoe shine.
After graduating from the Massachusetts School of Barbering, he worked his way up through various apprenticeships with different barbers, including his father, and then passed the master barber’s exam, at which point he opened his own shop, Romano’s Haircutters, in East Boston, which he ran for 30 years.
He then moved to Austin, Texas, and suburban Washington, D.C., where his wife Nancy Romano had jobs as a dietician and food service director; she now works at the White River Junction VA Medical Center. They moved back to New England in 2000 to be closer to their families and children. Their son Ryan has followed family tradition and runs a barber shop in Stowe, Vt., and their daughter Shelley lives in Gloucester, Mass.
Apart from the fact that he’s been around barber shops since he was a kid, Romano went into the trade because, he said, “I was just always a people person. I’m doing a business but I don’t feel like I work; I never get up in the morning and say, Oh God, I’ve gotta go to work.”
Romano is 72, with a soft, scratchy voice that sounds as if it’s at the tail end of a bout of laryngitis. It’s always been that way, he said, shrugging. He looks a little like a Zen barber, or maybe a Samurai barber, dressed all in black, with a beard that’s closer to a goatee. His hair is longer, toward the shoulders, and curls up at the ends. His manner is unruffled and amused. He’s been a vegetarian for 20 years, drinks rarely and doesn’t smoke.
The barber shop is hung wall to wall, ceiling to floor, with photographs of Dartmouth athletes and coaches, all former and present customers, and one astronaut, Jay Buckey. Romano follows sports closely, both at the college and back in Boston. “I’m a sports nut,” he said. Ask him about Bobby Valentine, the now departed manager of the Red Sox, and he groans. “Oh, God. ... No comment.”
Romano works with three women: Kristin LaBarre, Kymberly Byerly and Heather Simpson, who cuts Romano’s hair. The rapport between the four is easy and the banter is fast-paced, straight out of Seinfeld or The Office. Simpson, talking about the temperature in the shop, calls it “assisted-living hot, not nursing- home hot.”
A regular customer comes in and sits in Romano’s chair. It’s late afternoon and this is Romano’s last appointment for the day. They get chatting. “What do you think of the new Pope?” the man asks.
“I don’t know anything about him yet,” Romano said. “You’re not going to get a woman priest, that’s for sure,” he says, looking around at the women with a hint of mischief.
He begins trimming the man’s hair. The man’s flying to Germany on business in a few days. As Romano snips, the hair falls away. He then shaves the client, brushes away the locks of hair left on the protective apron and drapes a hot towel around his neck. When he removes it, he looks at the customer. “Wanna smell like a baby or a man?” Baby talcum powder or regular? Regular, the man says.
There are two TVs on all the time in the shop, mostly showing sports and Fox News, which Romano puts on when he wants to tease the women. “If I want to get their goat I put on Fox TV,” he said. He concedes that he likes to ask his politically liberal customers why they like Obama. But then he’s something of a contrarian: “Whatever the response is I go the other way.”
If there’s one show that engenders hot discussion, though, it is the ubiquitous Downton Abbey. Romano concedes, with perhaps a touch of masculine reluctance, that he, too, is a devotee. His wife started watching and he started watching with her, and faster than you can say “Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham,” he was hooked.
His favorite character is the fetching Lady Sybil. She’s got a nice figure, Romano says, or words to that effect, before retreating. into more noble-sounding rhetoric. “No, No, really, she was a revolutionary, she did her own thing.”
There’s a small debate about the lollipops that Romano keeps in a basket near the cash register. He picks out an orange one — he always picks orange, said Byerly — and pops it in his mouth. He likes all the flavors, with the exception of watermelon. “I wouldn’t let someone eat a watermelon Jolly Rancher in my chair,” Romano declared.
Why does he always pick the orange ones? “Because. It. Tastes. Like. Orange,” Romano said.
He has no plans to retire anytime soon. “ No reason to quit.”
He likes the small-town atmosphere of Hanover, likes getting to know the diversity of students at Dartmouth, knows the names of his clients’ spouses and children. Which is probably why he’s discreet when it comes to relaying any anecdotes about customers past or present. “I hate to divulge,” he said. After all, he said, this is a town where “on Saturday I gave my ophthalmologist a haircut and yesterday I saw him for an appointment.”
Nicola Smith can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3211.