After 61 Years, The Barber of North Chelmsford is Closing Up Shop
CHELMSFORD -- Frank Wiscarva’s door on the side of the white single-family home looks like a normal portal to the Middlesex Street building.
But it’s actually a time machine.
Equipment from the 1950s greets you in the cozy, 121-square-foot room, with a single, classic, red barbershop seat in front of the mirror. Photos of saluting soldiers, the USS Normandy and American flags cover the walls.
Proof that it transports customers to a different era: The shop doesn’t come up on Google Maps, and there’s no website.
They just don’t make ’em like they used to.
“This is old school. I’m an old timer,” Wiscarva, 82, says while cutting a customer’s hair for 55 minutes Wednesday morning. “You’re walking into a shop where the guy was born before the Second World War.”
It’s the end of an era this week for “Frank the Barber of North Chelmsford.”
His barbershop across the railroad tracks from Brickhouse Pizza is closing for good. After 61 years and five months in the business, Wiscarva is hanging up the clippers.
Many faithful customers turned into close friends over the years.
“That’s what I’ll miss the most,” the longtime Dunstable resident said. “I won’t miss the job. I’ll miss the guys, just like in the Army. Who the hell misses the Army? It’s the guys you meet. I vent on them, and they vent on me.”
He’s always remembered that barbers are “armchair philosophers,” he emphasized.
“If anyone is one, I guess it’d be me with 61 years and five months,” Wiscarva added.
His oldest customer is 97 years old. Each year around Christmas time, he gives him a free haircut.
A customer who recently turned 70 years old has been a loyal customer since high school, more than five decades ago when Wiscarva charged $1 for a haircut and the average tip was $0.25.
He increased the price to $15 over the years -- cheaper than the regional average -- and most customers leave him with a $20 bill.
“It should be $20 (for the haircut), but I didn’t want to whack old timers with a higher cost,” he said.
Tom Michal, 49, has been one of the younger monthly customers at the shop. When he got married 10 years ago and moved to the area, he scoped out the neighborhood one day and saw Wiscarva inside the big window cutting someone’s hair.
Michal likes to give his business to local places, so he tried out Wiscarva’s shop.
“Frank gives a great haircut. He takes more time and effort than folks in other places,” the Westford resident said.
He’s heard legendary tales in the shop over the last decade, Michal said. He’s learned all about how the area has changed.
“It’s the one spot I don’t mind waiting,” Michal said. “You can’t get this type of education anywhere else.”
If someone had planted a tape recorder in the room decades ago and then transcribed the stories, that person would be able to write a bestseller, he added.
Michal always looked forward to being there when a big election or sporting event was coming up.
“You knew people here would be fired up about it,” he said. “That’s definitely one of the things I’ll miss about it here.”
Wiscarva grew up on Ames Street in Lowell, and attended Keith Academy. He joined the Army 30 days after graduating high school as a 17-year-old in 1954. He was deployed overseas to Europe, where he was stationed at the Czechoslovak border.
When he returned to Lowell in 1957, the city didn’t have many opportunities, other than working in mills or shoe shops, he said. Then one day he was reading “The Boston Post” and saw an ad for veterans, who could attend a free six-month barber school.
And the rest is history.
“A lot has changed,” Wiscarva said. “We used to do everything with shaving and shampoo before... We did away with the shaves. The electric razors made it simple for guys, and the razors from Gillette and Schick are very good.”
He was married to Madeleine for nearly 60 years before she died last year. They had three kids together.
Wiscarva is very involved with the VFW Post 662 in Lowell, and the American Legion Post 247 in Tyngsboro.
He’s also busy with the Chelmsford Catholic Collaborative, and expects to do a lot more with St. Mary’s Church during retirement.
Before Wiscarva said farewell to Michal, one of his final customers on Wednesday, he told the story of when he had an operation a few years ago at Lowell General Hospital. Michal visited him at the hospital.
“I was taken aback,” Wiscarva said of the surprise.
On Wednesday, Michal told the barber to call him if he needed anything.
“See, this is the type of thing you get in a barbershop,” Wiscarva said. “It’s all about the guys.”