Prince Edward County’s Newspaper of Record
May 18, 2024
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John’s Barber Shop

A Main Street institution still going strong
<p>Michelle Mossey (centre) with John&#8217;s Barber Shop colleagues Afton Hall and Elaine Kerr (Photo: Jason Parks / Gazette Staff)</p>
Michelle Mossey (centre) with John’s Barber Shop colleagues Afton Hall and Elaine Kerr (Photo: Jason Parks / Gazette Staff)

Some two hundred people, old and young, arrived from near and far at John’s Barber Shop last Sunday. More than half a dozen vintage cars celebrated the occasion, one of them mocked up with a congratulatory sign. There were oysters and sandwiches, beer, wine and negronis. And just plain good will, all to celebrate this longstanding institution, its current owner, Michelle Mossey, and its original owner, John Sibthorpe, whose family was in attendance.

The story of John Sibthorpe, “Picton’s racing barber,” is well known. He arrived as a young man in 1953 to work at the Globe Bowl-O-Drome. Within the year he was setting up on Elizabeth Street, at first across the Street from Sam Gentile’s Groceteria, and then as part of that establishment.

By 1964 he was on his own at the Main Street location next to the Armoury. John’s Barber Shop is still there, and still a community hub.

Along the way, of course, Mr. Sibthorpe developed a parallel career in speedboat racing. As early as 1955, when he was just 23, he is the cover of the Picton Gazette, winning first prize in a 35-mile waterski marathon. 

In 1959 John  and his boat, “Ol’ Shaky,” were in the paper again, for his third-place trophy in the 100-mile outboard race, where he outpaced all but two of the 95 entrants. Only 22 finished the race. Some 30 capsized along the way.

John Sibthorpe raced all the next decade, while providing haircuts to the citizens of Picton. The barber shop became headquarters for the boat racing community. Eventually, it was  the center of the Gold Cup Races. It was such a hot spot, a phone was installed by the front barber’s chair—the very rotary phone that still rings to this day.

Mr. Sibthorpe was inducted into the PEC Sports Hall of Fame in 2012.

But what became of the barber shop?

Flash back to 1988, when a young Cherry Valley woman, Michelle Cole, soon-to-be Mossey, returned from Kingston, where she first trained at Marvel Beauty School and then worked for Peter’s Barber Shop, where she really learned the trade.

She visited every salon in Picton, but nobody was hiring. The last place in town was John’s Barber Shop. “It was this old place,” remembers Ms. Mossey, “and I said, ‘I gotta go in there and look for a job because, you know, I want to come back. It’s time to come back home.’ And I went in there and I caught John at a slow moment. We talked, and he pretty much hired me. I think I came and did a haircut for him to show I knew what I was doing.”

Michelle Mossey with John Sibthorpe’s daughters, Janet and Sharon. (Photo: Jason Parks / Gazette Staff)

Very much like John Sibthorpe in the 1950s, Ms. Mossey was soon ready for the challenge of running an independent business, and Mr. Sibthorpe obliged, selling John’s in 1991.

And the rest is the steady history of a Main Street institution. Ms. Mossey is happy to have the shop remain something of a museum of the boat racing days. Her glory is more the quiet kind of steady reliability. The shop is still a place of friendship. There is the strong camaraderie of her colleagues, Afton Hall and Elaine Kerr. Outside of working hours, Ms. Mossey and Ms. Kerr are regular cycling and hiking partners and even travel on vacations together.

The spirit spills over to the customers. Conversation in the shop ranges from meditative silence to an engaged sharing of news and anecdote. “It’s interesting, sometimes you take on the mood of the person or their personality. So if somebody’s easy going, talking, you are easy cutting hair. If somebody’s, like, wired, then you have to get in their zone because you have to be able to move with them. And sometimes they’re perfectly still.”

Ms. Mossey’s philosophy of empathy is also an “all welcome” policy. She actually remembers particular moments when she felt bad having to tell a customer that they were full up. “I wish I could be open all the time,” she says. And she means it.

The open-door, no appointments policy makes for a social experience that can be accidental, but never unrewarding. “Always having your door open, you never know who’s going to meet who.” She remembers a young university grad connecting with a senior expert in his field, and a special time when a grieving father met by chance the person who last saw his child.

“Being around others is what gets you through life. When things are dark, you still need smiling faces. So to me, along with my husband and my family, the people here, and the people that work here, are what kind of saved me, mentally. This was my safe place.”

Memories from John’s Barber Shop

And so there was a party. New introductions and old acquaintance. Handshakes and hugs. Regulars brought gifts and everybody made donations to a worthy cause. Ms. Mossey was particularly grateful to announce that the celebration raised over $5000 for theROC.

“It couldn’t have been done without the help of many friends,” she said, referring to the party, but also reflecting upon a meaningful career that still has a long run ahead. John’s is 70 and counting. 

This text is from the Volume 194 No. 19 edition of The Picton Gazette
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