Dwight’s: A cut above for decades

13 years ago

BSNS Tribute 2011

Dwight’s: 45 years

A cut above for decades

By Kathy McCarty

Staff Writer

PRESQUE ISLE — In a Main Street shop where prominently displayed is a plaque telling customers to “Get Over It” works a barber who has no intention of ‘getting over’ a career that’s already spanned 45 years any time soon.

BHR-DwightHelstrom-clr-c-all-04Staff photo/Kathy McCarty
ED GILLESPIE, of Presque Isle, gets a trim from Dwight Helstrom, owner of Dwight’s Barbershop in Presque Isle. Gillespie is one of Helstrom’s many loyal customers, marking more than 20 years of using the local barber’s services to keep him looking his best. Dwight’s is a local landmark of sorts, with 45 years of attracting business downtown. Customers range in age from toddlers to senior citizens and often several generations of the same family.

“I like to point that sign out to my customers. It’s my philosophy. Life’s too short to dwell (on negative things),” said Dwight Helstrom, owner of Dwight’s Barbershop. “When folks come to my shop, I like to joke with them, make ‘em laugh.”

For 45 years, he’s been doing just that, beginning his career on State Street.

“I went to Hanson’s Barber School in Lewiston — began in ‘65 and graduated in ‘66. My first job was working at Herman Daigle’s on State Street the summer of ‘66. I worked there until the spring of 1968,” he said.

From there, Helstrom took his skills to another shop, also in Presque Isle.

“I joined Luke Weider’s shop near the movie theatre in ‘68 — bought the shop in ‘68, when Luke went sheriff. After that, I bought Arthur Giberson out at the Northeastland around 1972, where I worked with my brother, Sterling (Helstrom). We worked together for a little over 23 years, then Sterling retired,” said Helstrom.

In the mid-80s, Helstrom returned to a location adjacent to the theatre.

“I moved my shop back to a spot next to the Braden, where I stayed for 14 years, before moving to my current location. I’ve been at my present spot for 11 years (just south of the Braden Theatre),” said Helstrom.

Helstrom said over the years he’s seen the business of cutting hair change, as trends/styles changed. He’s also found that fewer men are studying to be barbers and few women were interested in working at shops like his. He said he was lucky to find an employee like the one he has now.

“Wendy Kingsbury has been with me six years. She appreciates the atmosphere here. It gives customers options as to who cuts their hair. We don’t do appointments; it’s walk-in, first-come, first-served,” said Helstrom.

One might wonder how, in this day and age, anyone in the hair business can make a go without appointments. Not only has Helstrom been successful despite not scheduling cuts in advance, he also has maintained his business without the simplest of technological tools — the telephone.

“What do I need a phone for? I don’t make appointments and I’m on Main Street, so I don’t need to give folks directions. It’s never been a problem — been doing this for 45 years and customers always seem to find me and, in some cases, several generations of the same family,” said Helstrom.

Helstrom credits “good, loyal customers” for his many years of success.

“I have several families I’m cutting hair on the fourth generation; I even have about a half dozen that I’m working on the fifth generation. I have one family that I’m on my fourth ‘Ken’ — four generations and they’re all named Ken,” he said.

Edward Gillespie, of Presque Isle, is one of many return customers who’ve relied on Helstrom’s skills with comb, clippers and straight razor to make him look his best.

“I’ve been coming to Dwight’s for several years. There aren’t many barbers left. I like a good cut and that’s what I get. I used to drive truck and would wait until I was in town to get a cut. I’ve been coming here for over 20 years,” said Gillespie.

Helstrom has seen folks from all walks of life and has a devoted customer base.

“This line of work’s been good to me. I’ve met a lot of nice people over the years. Gov. Baldacci used to stop in when he was in town — he even waited on at least one occasion. I don’t bump customers; it’s first-come, first-served, no matter who you are,” he said.

It’s not just locals who rely on Helstrom’s talented hands. Customers come from all over the state to sit in one of his barber chairs.

“I have a guy from Yarmouth who comes up on business — has been doing so for about seven years. He never gets his hair cut anywhere else. I have a guy from Portland that does the same thing,” said Helstrom. “I have several customers from away that when they’re in town, stop by for a cut.”

“My wife, Sue, says there’s probably no place I can go that people don’t know me,” he said.

Anyone who’s ever been to Dwight’s knows what a treat it is to sit and listen to ‘tall tales’ of hunting and fishing, local news and the latest sports updates. As clippers buzz and hair floats to the floor, Helstrom keeps the mood lively, entertaining with stories of life in The County, as he knows it, with customers interjecting from time to time to add their own take on the topic at hand.

Last year Helstrom learned just how loyal his customers are, when surgery necessitated the closing of the shop for a short time.

“I had back surgery last August — had my back fused. It’s the first time ever I closed the shop; I had it closed for two weeks. When I reopened my customers came back,” said Helstrom. “It’s nice to know folks appreciate what I do.”

Helstrom said he couldn’t imagine doing anything else and plans to keep cutting hair for at least a few more years.

“If you’re a people person, it’s the best job you can get,” said Helstrom.

Business hours are Tuesday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Saturday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.