DRACUT -- Cassie Cunliffe doesn't remember the name of her first customer but she knows he had thinning gray hair and a short beard.
"I remember sweeping up after I was done," says Cunfliffe, who opened the Dracut Barber Shop at 1974 Lakeview Ave. in November 2007. Pennants, sports memorabilia and photographs hang on the wall. It's a man-cave in a sense, where a guy can pull off the road, sit back in a chair and be pampered for 10 or 15 minutes.
Cassie (pronounced KAY-see) wasn't sure she'd be successful, although she has a prime location in Collinsville, across the street from the Sovereign Bank and next to the Dracut True Value Hardware Store.
Almost five years later, the 30-something Dracut native employs three people (two women and a man) and has what seems like a steady stream of loyal customers. But make no mistake, Cunliffe is a barber, not a hairdresser or a hairstylist. The married mother of three girls, ages 12, 10 and 7, now lives in Pelham, N.H. She graduated from Dracut High School in 1992, then attended the New England Hair Academy in Malden. Upon her graduation in 1993, Cunliffe honed her skills in several local barbershops including the Andover Barber Shop, before venturing out on her own.
Q. What type of hairstyle do you hope never comes back?
A. "The mullet. Some people still have them. I have one guy who comes in and he still has a mullet.
Q. What's the average cost of a haircut and a shave these days?
A. "The average? Probably about $25. But I'm less expensive than the average barber. We charge between $13 and $15 for a haircut. I don't do many shaves anymore. I'm phasing it out. It's too time consuming."
Q. How many haircuts do you do in one day?
A. "Anywhere from 12 to 20 a day. Much more if it's a holiday, like Easter, which we just had, or the beginning of school. Then it gets crazy. But we love it."
Q. What's the best part of this job?
A. "Other than working for myself? I guess just getting to talk to so many different kinds of people from all walks of life. Everyone has a story to tell. It's also very cool to give some little boy his first professional haircut and then get to watch him as he grows up. I hope they're still coming here when they're in high school or college."
Q. Do you have to be a good conversationalist and keep up on current events?
A. "You have to be a good listener. You have to do more listening than talking. I keep my opinions to myself. I listen to their stories. I let them talk. I let them vent. Just like a bartender. I don't want to get anybody all worked up, especially some of the older gentlemen. The older generation is so intriguing. You think somebody is like, 70 years old and you find out they're actually 87 years old or 93 years old. They love to tell you how much a haircut was when they were kids. I actually have a couple retired barbers who come in regularly. They love it here."