Popular  barber  retires 

By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator  

A weathered red and white pole stands sentry over a fading icon, a nostalgic peak into a tradition that seems to be eroding daily.  

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Charlie Tramonte cuts the hair of longtime customer Eric Maher, during Tramonte’s final days before retiring. Tramonte, who first started cutting hair nearly 55 years ago and spent the past 40 years at a location off of Florida Boulevard in Baton Rouge, retired June 26.  Photos by Richard Meek | The Catholic Commentator 

 

On an afternoon when an early summer heat was nudging aside spring’s last gasp, Charlie Tramonte was inside going about his business of cutting hair, just as he has done for nearly 55 years, including the past 40 inside a location that is filled with pictures and memorabilia that would be the envy of any collector.  

Tramonte is a throwback to a time when the rite of passage included a father bringing his son to a barber shop for his first haircut, long before the days of upscale salons.  

On this particular day Tramonte was cutting the hair of longtime customer Eric Maher. Maher, 41, who has sat in that same chair since the age of five, entrusting his locks to a man he calls family, as Maher’s own father did for years.  

Maher has kept the legacy alive, bringing his own son, who is three years old, for his first haircut.  

“The magic of this place is the man next to me (Tramonte),” Maher said.  

But those good times, in that same place where Saturday mornings meant spirited discussions on the previous night’s prep football scores that would inevitably pivot to LSU, are now nothing but treasured memories.   

Tramonte locked the doors of Charlie Tramonte’s Goodwood Barber Shop for the final time June 26, five months shy of celebrating 55 years since cutting the hair of his first customer at his father’s old shop.  

“I’ve been blessed, I’ve had a good run,” the 77-year-old Tramonte, a graduate of Catholic High School in Baton Rouge, said. “I have so many memories, have met so many wonderful people, and I cherish the fact that they have helped me in so many ways.”  

His was a career that was almost, well, snipped, in the beginning. He remembers with fondness a day when just starting out at his dad’s shop, the old Goodwood Barber Shop. He was one of three barbers and even though 15 people were waiting, his chair remained vacant, an expression of customers’ loyalty to their favorite barber.  

“I said, ‘Please Lord let somebody come in so I can cut their hair; I can’t even describe the feeling,” he said.  

Soon after, a man whose hair Tramonte had previously cut, walked in and Tramonte asked if he could cut his hair. It turned out to be a question he wished he had never asked.  

“You have to realize everything was quiet (at that moment) in the barber shop. The man said, ‘not if you cut my hair the way you did the last time,’ ” Tramonte said with a laugh.  

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Charlie Tramonte’s barber shop was filled with memorabilia, perhaps not surprising much of it surrounding LSU. But the shop also featured a large collection of hats, including many sporting hockey team logos, a sport his grandson loves.  Photo by Richard Meek | The Catholic Commentator 

 

The man allowed Tramonte to cut his hair and figures he must have done a good job since the man became a regular customer. 

Tramonte stayed at the Broadmoor location working alongside his dad for 15 years, before closing that shop and moving to the location off of Florida Boulevard, where he would stay for 40 years. In that time, he has seen thousands of customers go through his shop, including some celebrities, such as LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri and even a one-off with former Louisiana Gov. Jimmy Davis,  

He also established himself as sort of a de facto barber for priests and men religious. He estimates that through the years he cut the hair of at least 20 priests, not including several Brothers of the Sacred Heart.  

Also included in that clergy number is Bishop Michael G. Duca, who discussed making Italian sausage with Tramonte.  

“I reckon being Italian he came to me,” Tramonte joked.  

During his final days, Tramonte was flooded with half a century of memories. He recalled with his ever-present smile those Saturday mornings when people would just drop in and talk sports.  

He would arrive at the shop at 6:30 a.m. on Saturdays after attending Mass. On some days up to five people were at his door waiting. 

“It was fun on Saturday mornings,” he said. “We were a tight-knit group.  

“We talked a lot about sports but no politics or religion. And there was not a lot of cussing.  

“We fired a lot of coaches and hired a lot of coaches in that barber shop,” he added. “We had a lot of Saturday morning quarterbacks. Everybody knew what was best.”  

He said many people believe the LSU information pipeline ran thought the heart of the shop but quickly added they were mistaken.  

“You would be surprised how many people called me and asked me what’s going on with this coach, or the basketball team,” he said. “I would get lot of information but a lot of it was fake. If you want to start a rumor a good place to start one is right here.”  

Maher remembers the Saturday gatherings as an older crowd but that did not diminish his enthusiasm.  

“Once my dad start bringing me around, I did not stop coming,” he said. “They had to chase me around the shop.”  

Even through personal tragedies, Tramonte recalls the compassion of his customers. Tramonte’s wife died of pancreatic cancer four years ago and his daughter died at the age of 48 after suffering a heart attack nine months ago.  

“This place saved me,” he said. “If not for the barber shop, I don’t think I could have made it. The customers were very good to me.”  

Tramonte marvels at how the business has changed from his first customer on Dec. 7, 1965, to his last on June 26. Walk-ins were once a bedrock of his business but about seven years ago he changed to appointment only. 

And people are much busier in their own lives.  

“I think that is what they miss in a barber shop now,” he said. “You used to have a shop full of people with their young boys, with their daddy. People don’t have time for that now. They want to get in and out. Everybody is in a hurry. I think it takes away a lot.”  

Even as the sun began to set on his long career, Tramonte could still hear the laughter, emanating from the walls. He said there were “a lot of big fish caught in here,” adding that the fish would get bigger with each retelling of the same story.  

But it’s the customers he will miss most. After all, he admitted he “knew more about them than their wives do sometimes. They tell me stuff they won’t tell other people.”  

“It’s like a confessional,” he added. “What you hear in a barber shop stays in a barber shop.”  

Retirement plans remain uncertain, although a leisurely drive to visit his sister to South Dakota, spending more time with his son and his family are priorities.  

For many, the closing of Tramonte’s shop will be a void in their own lives, tempered by their love for the man they knew as family.  

For Tramonte, they were all family.