CLAYTON — John Solar, known as the singing barber who was tough and respected as a longtime businessman, has closed his barbershop permanently after more than 50 years.
For nearly 54 years almost every day, Mr. Solar woke up at around 7:15 a.m., got ready and headed to Solar’s Barber Shop on Riverside Drive at around 7:45. If there weren’t any customers in the morning, he would walk down to the Koffee Kove Restaurant to drink coffee with his friends. Sometimes the restaurant would get a call from someone asking to “get Solarized,” and he would walk back down to his shop to give a haircut. At some point over the years, his daughter, Rebecca, burned a bunch of CDs for her dad to have at the shop. It was mostly tunes from the ‘50s and ‘60s or rock and roll. And he would sing along to the CDs for his customers.
“He’s got a good voice,” said Trudy, his wife of 47 years.
He would have cut hair for the rest of his life, but Mr. Solar began losing his memory around 10 years ago. Still, in the last decade he carried on as usual, still using a straight razor around his customers ears with the same precision as usual. He would call most women “sweethearts” because he didn’t want to offend them if he forgot their names.
But when a routine of that many years is disrupted, carrying on becomes difficult. When barbershops were deemed nonessential in mid-March, Mr. Solar still had hope he would reopen. But as time went on, Mrs. Solar realized it just wasn’t going to work. It was enough to remember to have all of his equipment every day. It was too much to expect Mr. Solar to follow the many safety guidelines outlined by the state for barber shops, so the decision was to close permanently.
“This is pretty sad,” said Mary Zovistoski, a town councilwoman. “Whether customers liked him or not, they respected him for being a businessperson for as long as he has.”
Thomas LaClair, the Clayton town and village historian, received haircuts from Mr. Solar as a child and up through his early 20s.
“Growing up on a dairy farm outside Clayton village, my parents would often bring me and my three brothers to John Solar’s for haircuts,” Mr. LaClair said. “As a young child, I recall sitting in the barber chair and John would pump the foot lift pedal and I always felt I was going super high in the air. I am sure it was only a few inches but it seemed high then.”
Mr. LaClair left the area in 1984 for a military career. He returned to Clayton in 2012 and wrote an article on Mr. Solar’s barbershop for the local Thousand Islands Sun newspaper.
“That was my first Clayton history article for the local paper — now numbering in the dozens,” he said. “In reflecting back, the article on Solar’s Barbershop was a milestone that helped launch my historian career.”
After high school, Mr. Solar went to barber school and then got recruited by the Navy at around 20 years old.
“That’s why they decided to put him on a ship to Vietnam,” Mrs. Solar said, “because they needed a barber.”
He returned to Clayton after the Navy and began working at the shop around 54 years ago.
One long weekend in the early ‘70s, Mrs. Solar took a trip to the Thousand Islands with a friend. They were at O’Briens restaurant and bar when she met Mr. Solar.
Mrs. Solar would go back to Rochester where she was studying nursing, and the two would talk on the phone and continued a long distance relationship until they got married.
As she worked, Mrs. Solar would also head down to the shop to help her husband clean. And now the store sits empty.
“Part of me has wanted him to retire,” she said. “But he just enjoyed it so much.”
Mr. Solar might not have wanted to close now, but the couple agreed somewhat reluctantly that it was time.
“We just want to say thanks for all of the customers’ support and patronage over the years,” Mrs. Solar said. “All of the gin rummy games people would come in and play on down time. All of the sports fans would come in, and all of the gifts we received. Thank you.”