Local retail trade association Our Village’s Independent Shops (OVIS), has been celebrating a milestone for one of its longest serving members.
Derek Fimbers celebrated 60 years at the helm of his family tobacconist and barber shop “Pipe and Snippers” yesterday. Derek was presented with an ashtray decorated with pictures of ‘men’s hairstyles through the years’ by OVIS Chairman Malcolm Haxton to mark this very special occasion.
“Derek’s shop is a one-off” said Mr Haxton as he presented the ash tray to OVIS most loyal member, “if only more retailers had Derek’s perseverance in pursuit of a clear vision, the retail world would be a better place.”
Derek was clearly moved when receiving this very special ash receptacle.
When WLOV caught up with Derek he said “Today is a very special day for me. I can’t believe it’s 60 years since I took over this very special shop, from my father. And even though I have seen many changes that have made it more difficult for anyone running a small retail outlet offering the twin services of tobacco product sales and haircuts I’m a very lucky man.
“Sixty years ago I had a dream of developing my grandfather’s vision of building a vast network of Tobacconist/Barbers that would rival this country’s big retail chains and at one point in the late 1950s I thought this could happen, but alas that dream lies in tatters at my feet and I fear it may never happen, now I am in my eighty fifth year and I believe I am the only outlet of this type in the country. If not the world.
“I blame several factors for this including cheap foreign holidays, Cliff Michelmore and his gang from the Holiday TV programme, health fads and finally the increasing availability of contraceptives in shops, supermarkets and vending machines.
Mr Fimbers took over the running of “Pipe and Snippers” on 8th May 1953, from his father who had to retire due to ill health.
“In those days everyone smoked and you could scarcely see the head of the bloke’s whose hair you were cutting because of the density of smoke in the place,” remembers Derek with a smile.
“We had to ‘feel’ our way round the customers’ heads to know where their hair was. All of our customers left the shop with yellow hair whether they wanted it dyed or not!” said Derek with a laugh that turns into a small coughing fit.
“It seems strange now, but that’s how it was in those days. Men had short hair and smoked. My grandfather thought he’d come up with a real winner when he launched the shop in 1919. Derek’s grandfather Arthur Fimbers set up “Pipe and Snippers” after the First World War, as men needed to “forget about all the fighting and get away to a place they could have a shave, a haircut and a smoke” as his grandson puts it.
Arthur’s enterprise quickly became a success as he offered a range of hair cutting and male grooming services with the opportunity to buy a range of cigarettes, cigars and pipe tobacco at the same time.
“My grandfather’s most loyal customers would sometimes have a shave and a haircut whilst having a cigarette, a cigar and a bowl of pipe tobacco on the go,” Derek explained. “It was paradise for some men and they stayed in the shop all day. Some had four or five haircuts just to stay and enjoy the atmosphere.”
“Grandad specialised in fashioning cutting edge facial hair styles in the 1920s including the postage stamp moustache. He could produce the neatest little postage stamp of hair for customers with just some soap, a badger-haired shaving brush and a cut throat razor. They really were the most popular style in the village for some time in the early 1930s.
“Unfortunately as most people know, during that decade a certain Mr Hitler arrived on the scene, with the same style of moustache and that was the end of a very lucrative line in precision shaving for my grandfather.
“As luck would have it over the years my grandfather, my father and I have developed shaving and hair styling skills that have frequently coincided with the moustaches and hair styles of many dictators which has been very frustrating to say the least.
“At times it made life quite difficult as very few of the village’s men want to look like someone featured in the day’s paper as heading up an oppressive regime.
“Our specialisation in fashioning, quite unmanageable, thick, wavy grey hair unfortunately meant that when we put pictures of our models up in the window of our little village shop, at times it could look like the head office of the Stasi in 1973.
“Our haircuts have been likened to those favoured by among others: Gheorghe Gheorghiu, Nicolae Ceaușescu and Joseph Stalin. Having said that they do look quite smart and I always preferred that look to the ‘mop top’ look favoured by famous singers like The Beatles.
“Even when I mastered the soft perm in the mid 1970s to get away from these Eastern Bloc dictators that we were turning our customers into, Gaddafi turns up. And another avenue of creativity closed for me. I was really at a loss. And it all added to the challenges I have faced during my sixty years at “Pipe and Snippers.”
Even as Derek regards his new ash tray, embellished with pictures of “men’s hairstyles through the years” he remarks that “they all look like Communist Criminals” with a small ‘tut’ and a smile to himself, as he goes outside for a cigarette.
Nevermind Derek keep cutting and chugging on those cigarettes, there are very few like you left.