For anyone short on a few bucks at A Little Off the Top barbershop in Brunswick, Maine, it won’t turn into a hairy situation. Shop owner Lynn Cressey’s got you covered.
“I’ll work with you,” reads the sign in front of the Woolwich, Maine, native’s shop.
In September, she added a note to the sign beneath the hair and beard cut prices. It said: “If this creates a hardship for you, please let me know. Nobody will be turned away for lack of ability to pay.”
Cressey’s customers, many of whom she says are retired or military, come from various situations: they may be on fixed incomes, out of work, disabled or simply going through a rough patch.
“As I’m cutting somebody’s hair, I know by talking to a lot of them how much they’re struggling, and a lot of times I’ll just tell them there’s no charge,” Cressey, who opened A Little Off the Top in February 2007, told USA TODAY.
She’s had customers who have offered to pay the next week.
“I know they’re going through a lot,” said Cressey, a mother of nine children, with 38 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
One customer with an upcoming job interview had raided his child’s piggy bank for $6 worth of change. He’d promised to give Cressey the remainder later.
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She cut his hair. Took his change. Opened her drawer.
“I took (money out) and said, ‘here – put this back in your kid’s piggy bank, the haircut’s on me, and here’s $10 for gas to get to the interview,” Cressey recalled. “He was so grateful.”
Giving back to a community that is ‘like family’
The hairstylist, who runs her shop solo, is no stranger to difficult times. A three-month shutdown during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 was tough, she said. At the same time, her husband, who died last January, was “extremely” ill. The hairstylist used the time away from the business to care for him.
She’s a believer in people looking out for each other. It’s what her community, which she describes as “like family,” did for her.
“People would call just to check up on me,” Cressey said. “They sent cards, gave me a few donations and I was able to pay the rent at the shop.”
As she chats with customers between every snip of her shears, signs of hardships sometimes linger beneath the facade of an “I’m fine” in response to “how are you?” she said.
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“Fine’ is not a real answer when really, you’re actually there struggling, and if you look closely enough, you can see it, you can sense it,” Cressey said. “Sometimes, even if they can pay, they just need a hug, they need to know that somebody’s out there that cares about them.”
‘They got me through, I want to return the favor’
Cressey’s generous gesture of discounted cuts went viral after a man visiting from Florida requested to take a photo of her sign.
She’d charged a lower rate than her standard price. “Sometimes I just feel like, ‘hey, you might need a break,’” Cressey said. “The heating oil prices were out of sight, gas prices and groceries were high, so I reduced haircuts to $12.”
Not long after, someone called the hairstylist to tell her the man’s photo received a lot of attention on Reddit, where the post has gotten over 21,000 upvotes.
“That was a big surprise over the last few weeks, it’s been interesting,” said the generous barbershop owner, who’s also given free cuts and given donated wigs to women undergoing chemotherapy.
While she is flattered by the attention her sign has received, the focus for Cressey remains on paying it forward to a community that supported her in her time of need.
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“Everybody’s helped me get through these last few years – understanding when I had to close (my shop) to take care of my husband who was in hospice and dying, taking care of a daughter that had just had heart surgery,” Cressey said.
She says it’s hard not to be appreciative.
“It’s impossible to sit back and watch somebody struggling and not feel the need to help them,” Cressey said. “They got me through, and I want to return the favor.”
Story Credit: usatoday.com