By Maxim Tamarov
It was a warm, sunny Tuesday in August as Thomas Console put on his mask, grabbed his hair cutting cape and welcomed Winthrop residents to John’s Barber Shop on one of his last days at the business.
Although the shop was named after John Cimino, “The Barber” of Winthrop, Console has kept up its reputation for the seven years he’s worked there. After 48 years of being a barber, he is laying down his scissors and clippers.
As customers came in and sat down for their final hair cut from the town legend, they commented on Console’s retirement and told him how much they would miss him.
“He’s a great guy, you know what I mean?” said William Keith, a lifelong Winthrop resident. “I’m sad to see him go.”
Console started working as a barber with his grandfather, his father and his uncles at a barber shop in Brighton named after Mt. Etna. He never understood why if the family lived in East Boston, they were working in Brighton. But Console’s grandfather told him, “You go where it is.”
Eventually, Console was able to reconcile where “it” was with where he lived — that’s how he ended up on Shirley Street in Winthrop. He lives a few blocks away on Winthrop Shore Drive.
Console has slicked back gray hair, wears a large gold cross on a gold chain and has a raspy voice like Gilbert Gottfried. Over the years, he has developed a strong following. He is known for chatting with his patrons about everything from Joe Biden’s politics to Alice Cooper’s golf game.
The conversations, retired corrections officer Dan Daunais said, are part of Console’s charm.
“He’s knowledgeable on so many things,” Daunais said. “I have a hard time with conversation usually, but him, he just carries it.”
On Tuesday, Console and Daunais struck up a conversation about golf. Daunais had just come back from the course, and was telling the barber about it.
Console is a lifelong sports fan. He was a catcher for the Mets Double-A team and was an avid golfer for a long time, before developing an artery condition called spinal stenosis that forced him to stop playing. Console said that there were many good athletes in Winthrop and East Boston. Growing up, he said, “our spare time was a ball and bat.”
There are plenty of old sports-related newspaper clippings hanging up in the shop, attesting to his fandom, along with tonic advertisements from the 1950s. He likes to keep the shop looking old-fashioned, he said.
Old-fashioned is also how he likes his haircuts. Console is a consummate hair cutter who uses scissors when he can.
“Any haircut you do has your name on it,” Console said. “It should have pride along with it.”
And his skill, much like his conversation, is greatly appreciated by his customers.
“Tom gives a great cut and can tell you everything you need to know about Winthrop,” wrote one reviewer on the shop’s Google page.
“Tom is an awesome barber with a great personality,” wrote another.
“Awesome,” wrote a third.
According to Winthrop local Sean Fitzgerald, Console does what he is asked for and doesn’t try to push his own style on people who don’t want it.
“He does a good job. If he didn’t, I wouldn’t come,” Fitzgerald said. “Plus he’s a good guy.”
Daunais also attested to Console being a “good guy.” He recalled a time when he got so sick that he couldn’t walk. Console, he said, gave him his card and told him to call if he needed anything. Daunais couldn’t drive at the time, so Console offered to pick him up.
“What barber does that?” Daunais said. “I’ve only known him three years. It’s not like we go back a long time. That’s the type of guy he is.”
Console took two months off during the height of Covid-19, and acknowledged that retiring during a pandemic is “strange.”
It remains unclear what will happen to the shop after he’s gone. His last day is Saturday, and there hasn’t been a decision on who will take the lease. Console hopes that another old-fashioned barber will take over once he’s gone. It is with this hope in mind that he is leaving the majority of the barber shop paraphernalia behind.
Yet even if another old-school barber takes over, Console said he will miss his post.
“I’ve made a lot of friends,” Console said. “It’s been very, very hard to say that I’m going to retire, because I really love what I do.”
Maxim Tamarov is a freelance reporter covering coronavirus and environmental issues for the Winthrop Sun Transcript. Send comments or story ideas to [email protected].
A message from Thomas Console:
Goodbye and Thanks
My barbering career began almost 50 years ago, first cutting hair in Brighton with my father and then here in Winthrop, where I’ve lived for the last 27 years.
The time has come for me to retire and enjoy life, which is what we all wish to do someday. I am leaving the profession that I’ve loved and I apologize for such short notice. This has been a difficult decision to make, one that took a long time to consider. I appreciate your understanding.
I want to thank everyone who’s hair I’ve had the privilege to cut. I always tried to make you look and feel better when leaving, than when you came in, and especially when the “boss” checked it over.
Thanks for all the many years of memories made here. Take care and hope to see you around town.
Tom, the Barber