Bristol beautician retires after six decades of styling

BRISTOL — Hairstyles have come and gone, but for more than six decades Bristol Beauty Bar has seemed like forever.
Perhaps it’s the avocado green base cabinet Lucille Skeffington has used since November 1957, when she opened the shop in her home at 4 Mountain St. Or perhaps it’s the original wood-paneled walls.
“I just never had to change anything,” she said.
Forever came to an end on Saturday, however, as Skeffington, who is 91 years old, welcomed her final client, Rita Booska, who is 95.
What transpired during that appointment — great talk or small, laughter, tears, quiet reflection — is known only to its participants, but much can be gleaned from Bristol Beauty Bar’s 61-year history, where friendship has been just as much a byproduct of Skeffington’s work as beautification has.
Over the years she’s counted only five partners in this project (and only one at a time): Mary Bergling, Janet Hoffnagle, Debra Jackman, Diane Livingston and Ann Roscoe.
Last week, during a visit from the Independent, Livingston and Hoffnagle sat down with Skeffington to share their thoughts and memories.
The trio recalled the plain short cuts, the feathered Farah Fawcett styles, the Dorothy Hamill wedge cuts, the shags and the big curly afro-style perms. They laughed about the ketchup bottle Skeffington used as a shampoo dispenser for 40 years and the 45-year-old Tupperware bowl she kept her pins and clips in.
They spoke, too — and fondly — about the shop’s “cozy” two-chair layout.
“Everyone talked to everyone else, and we learned how to move around each other,” Skeffington said.
And they exercised great respect and consideration for their clients.
“We didn’t ‘gossip,’ about people,” Livingston said. Skeffington would bristle when someone came in and asked about the latest “gossip.”
She also made a point of speaking nicely about her customers.
“The last thing you want is to say something unpleasant about a client after they’ve left and have another client overhear it, because then that client will think, ‘I wonder what she says about me when I leave.’”
For the most part, discussions remained civil, they said.
“I remember only one time in my 41 years that things got heated,” said Livingston, who retired four years ago.
Livingston’s client overheard Skeffington talking politics with her own client, and took issue with something she said.
“You can’t say that about the president of the United States!” Livingston’s client said.
“Lucille went into the other room and kicked the door,” Livingston recalled, laughing. “I didn’t say a word, though. I knew better.”
Everyone apologized to one another later that night, Skeffington said, and “we never spoke of it afterward.”
Skeffington didn’t get upset very often, but when she did, her late husband, Ed, to whom she was married for 34 years, had a remedy for it.
“Ed would head down the street and buy her a king-size candy bar,” Livingston said with a smile. “He’d come back, set it down and say, ‘It’s here when you want it.’ At some point Lucille would stop and eat that giant Snickers bar or whatever, and everything would be OK again.”
Over the years, even as the Bristol Beauty Bar was creating its own community-within-a-community — the town itself was changing.
“Bristol is more of a bedroom town than it used to be,” Skeffington said. “We don’t know our neighbors as much.”
She’s noticed a difference in her customers over the years, too.
“We didn’t used to get clients with Alzheimer’s like we do now,” she said.
Hoffnagle, Livingston and Skeffington recalled — soberly but affectionately — how conversations with such clients sometimes involved answering the same question several times or graciously accepting the same apology over and over again.
“It was never a problem,” Skeffington said.
As long as the client seemed to be having a good experience, the Bristol Beauty Bar was happy to have them. Eventually, though, visits became too confusing for them or made them fearful.
“Sometimes the water would frighten them,” Livingston said.
Other clients simply became less independent over the years.
Livingston recalled having to gently inform families when she thought her clients should not be driving anymore.
“That happened four times,” she said.
Bristol Beauty Bar made extra efforts with its older clients, some of whom had no other social lives outside their hair appointments, Skeffington said.
“We would check in with them. Ask how they’re doing, ask them about their pain.”
And when it counted the most, she gave away her services.
“Lucille’s always been so generous,” Livingston said. “Birthdays, funerals, weddings for free.”
Hoffnagle agreed.
“Even brides,” she said. “That’s unusual. The bride usually gets charged the most.”
“We did it for free because we wanted to,” Skeffington said.
Women weren’t their only customers, however.
Bristol Beauty Bar began to see its first male clients in 1974.
“They were a little shy at first,” Livingston said. “Like, ‘A beauty shop? I don’t know.’ But they got used to it.”
The men were tired of barbers, Skeffington explained.
“They wanted their hair more styled.”
Though she hasn’t had any male customers for quite a while, men still patronize the shop.
Alexis Lathrop, who will continue to take evening clients in the Bristol Beauty Bar, styles men’s hair.
Skeffington’s retirement plans are pretty straightforward.
“I’m going to sit on my fanny,” she said, laughing. She also plans to enjoy more time with her twin sister (and housemate), Cecile.
“They’ll get lots of visitors,” Livingston predicted. “And have lots of conversations about politics and town business. Lucille likes to keep up.”
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].

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