Mary Cassell, December 3, 2013

Title

Mary Cassell, December 3, 2013

Subject

Kingston (N.Y.)
Connecticut
Syracuse (N.Y.)
Work
Work & Family Connection
Children
Cooperstown (N.Y.)
Hartwick (N.Y.)

Description

Mary Cassell owns Shortcuts, a full-service beauty salon located in The Commons off of Route 28 in the town of Hartwick, New York. She was born in 1947 in Kingston, New York. Her father was a butcher and owned a grocery store, and Mary and her sister and brother helped out at the store. In high school, she completed a pilot program (later BOCES) for cosmetology. She married at 18 and after high school, worked at a salon in Woodstock, New York, and then in a department store salon in Kingston, where she helped open salons in New York, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. She also attended college at night for art. She moved with her husband, who worked for Philip Morris, to Syracuse, New York, where she designed and sold sweater knitting patterns to several magazines. They then moved to Cooperstown and Mary opened up Smooth Operators, a salon on Grove Street. They then moved to Connecticut, where Mary worked in sales for a beauty supply house, and back to Cooperstown, where she opened The Clip Joint on Main Street, and then Shortcuts. She has three children, two of whom own their own restaurant businesses, and one grandson, whom she often cares for.

Creator

Megan Culbert

Publisher

Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York-College at Oneonta

Date

2013-12-03

Rights

New York State Historical Association Library, Cooperstown, NY

Format

audio/mpeg
27.5MB
audio/mpeg
27.5MB
audio/mpeg
8.5MB
image/jpeg
2448x3264 pixels

Language

en-US

Type

Sound
Image

Identifier

13-01

Coverage

Upstate New York
1947-2013
Kingston, NY

Online Submission

No

Interviewer

Megan Culbert

Interviewee

Mary Cassell

Location

3467 County Highway 11
Hartwick, NY

Transcription

Mary=Mary Cassell
Megan=Megan Culbert

[START OF TRACK 1, 0:00]


Megan:

This is the December 3, 2013 interview of Mary Cassell conducted by Megan Culbert for the Cooperstown Graduate Program’s Research and Fieldwork Course recorded at Mary’s home in Hartwick, New York.

Megan:
So, Mary, can you tell me where you were born?

Mary:
I was born in Kingston, NY, which is about two hours from here.

Megan:
What type of work did your parents do?

Mary:
After my dad got out of the service, he opened up a small grocery store and butcher shop, and he and my mom both worked in that business and of course all of us children, there were three of us, did also, from the time we had to stand on a milk crate to ring things in at the register [laughter], so we definitely grew up in a small business.

Megan:
Did both of your parents run the business together?

Mary:
Mostly my dad did, my mom was a really a homemaker and she took care of us, but she certainly carried her share of the load in the business too.

Megan:
What kinds of things did both of them do?

Mary:
Well, he was the butcher so therefore he took care of the whole meat end of it and he also did all the ordering, and everything for the business. Whereas she was, I would have to say, customer service and worked the front end and had a good rapport with the people. It was a small neighborhood store that he had decided to open up when he got out of the service.

Megan:
Do you know what made him go into that?

Mary:
Well, he was a chief petty officer and worked as a chef on a destroyer for 16 years in the Navy, and growing up in Kingston, he had uncles that ran a big market in Kingston and he worked in there when he was little growing up, so I’m sure that had a big influence on what to do when he got out of the service.

Megan:
Was he in the service from the time that he was out of high school?

Mary:
Yes. He was in for 16 years and then when he got out he married my mom, opened up the business.

Megan:
How did they meet, do you know?

Mary:
That, I think they really met through friends, in the neighborhood, and that was really how they met. Back then people got married, well, I don’t want to say older, because today people get married older. My mom’s generation got married in their thirties whereas my generation got married in our teens, so everything goes around again. They started off later, I would say, in life, which in today’s world is the time to start, I guess [laughter].

Megan:
What had your mom been doing before that point?

Mary:
My mom actually was the chief breadwinner in her family. There were six kids and her mother had died very young, and she was the oldest and she really went out and worked. She worked in a pajama factory so she was a sewer in a factory and she also did some housecleaning. She did anything she could; all the kids in that family worked in order to keep the household alive with money.

Megan:
Can you tell me now about what you and your siblings did at the grocery store?

Mary:
Well, my sister was two years older so she delivered orders before I did, but she delivered orders even before she had a license to drive because we needed to do it. My dad’s was one of the few stores that did deliveries, and we delivered all over the city of Kingston, and I worked the cash register most of the time and stocked the shelves. And then I had a younger brother who really spent a lot of time stocking shelves, because he was playing most of the time. Growing up we used to call him the “king” because he got away with everything [laughter], because he was the youngest, but to him it was a lot of play in the store, whereas to my sister and I, it was really serious business. We had a few cousins and uncles that worked in the store also. So my father employed his share of people in the neighborhood.

Megan:
It was a family business.

Mary:
It was a family business, yup.

Megan:
Run by multiple family members. You said that you saw it as a business, as a serious thing. Even when you were little, was that the case?

Mary:
Well, we knew that that was the only way that we had money coming in, because a lot of people in the neighborhood at that time worked still in clothes factories and IBM was just coming into the area where we were so some of the men would work in IBM. Most of the people in our neighborhood only had high school educations.

Megan:
How long was this business in business?

Mary:
Oh my goodness, well, it’s the only thing I ever remember my father doing from little up. I think he opened up in 1946, if I’m not mistaken. He actually sold the business two different times. The first time he sold the business he held the paper on it, which is something that I’ve learned that you don’t do because the people don’t pay you [laughter], so we ended up taking the business back about 5 years later and then he worked the business again for probably another 10 years and then sold it again but this time was wise enough to let it go through a bank and not through him. Gosh, that had to be, well, it had to have been in the 60’s. I got married in ’65 and my husband, my ex-husband worked for my dad probably for about, I would say, five or six years and that was when my father took the business back so he probably sold it in ’62-’63 and then he took the business back a few years later and then my husband went to work for him then and kept it probably another, I would have to say, maybe 7-8 years.

Megan:
When you say, “kept the papers,” what does that mean?

Mary:
You hold the mortgage. He sold the business; he held the mortgage. The people coming in, however, were not business people. They thought all the money coming in was theirs. They didn’t realize you had to restock the shelves and pay the utilities and pay everything. I don’t think they went into it really thinking about it, and it was somebody from the neighborhood that bought the business. I know, because we were younger, some of the first things that this particular gentleman did was buy his wife a fur coat and a diamond ring and all the years we were in business my mom never had a fur coat or a diamond ring [laughter], so needless to say, he couldn’t get any credit from the vendors and then of course he stopped paying my dad so my dad took the business back and had to start running it again like a business.

Megan:
How did he feel about having to take [the business back]?

Mary:
Oh, he didn’t want to do it. He wanted to retire, and that’s what he had planned on doing, and it was a shock to him. I don’t think anybody ever thinks that’s going to happen, but it probably happens more often than not.

Megan:
You had said before about your sister driving before she had a license.

Mary:
Uh huh.

Megan:
And you?

Mary:
...also [laughter], yes.

Megan:
Your parents must have known about this?

Mary:
Oh yeah, we didn’t have much of a choice. We didn’t drive any place other than to deliver orders, and I probably drove for a year before I took my driver’s test and I failed my driver’s test [laughter].

Megan:
Oh boy [laughter]. So this was when you were 15? 16?

Mary:
[At] sixteen you could get a license then, so I drove when I was 15. My sister probably drove when she was 14.

Megan:
Did your brother have to?

Mary:
My brother didn’t, no, like I said, he was the “king.” [laughter]

Megan:
[Unclear] So with your sister and your brother, what was your relationship with them like when you were growing up?

Mary:
Probably just normal childhood stuff. I mean we had our share of fights, but I think we all lived in different universes. My sister was two years older than me and probably just outside of that rebellious hippy generation; whereas, I was the rebel and the hippy in the family, and my brother was four years younger so he was still a little kid, and we liked him, and her and I were not sure we liked each other, and of course now we’re the best of friends [laughter]. My brother’s still the “king” [laughter]; we still tease him.

Megan:
Classic younger brother, older sisters.

Mary:
Uh huh. Yup.

Megan:
Now you said that you got married. Had your sister been married?

Mary:
My sister got married six months before I got married. Yep. She got married in January, and I got married in August.

Megan:
You were, I understand, on the young side?

Mary:
Eighteen. My sister was twenty when she got married. She was two years older than me.

Megan:
Was your family supportive of both of you getting married at that time?

Mary:
Kids got married when they left home. It isn’t like it is today where you went and got a job, and got an apartment. You basically had your job, got married, and got your apartment with your partner and your husband.

Megan:
What was school like growing up? Was it nearby?

Mary:
Yeah, we went to a Polish Catholic School, and it went through 8th grade and we had double grades: first and second, third and fourth. The classes were doubled up, and we had a lot of cultures because our neighborhood, we used to call “Polack Alley” which was right on the border of “Little Italy” so we had a lot of Italians and a lot of Polish but we prayed in Polish, we spoke Polish in school. My mom was Polish, and our masses were in Polish, so we were bi-lingual [a] little. I can pray in Polish today; I can curse in Italian [laughter].

Megan:
Did you speak Polish at home?

Mary:
Just a little bit, not a lot. Because they were the generation whose parents came over from Europe, they, of course, wanted to speak English so even the Italian kids who spoke Italian at home, who had just gotten over here, I can remember quite a few kids in our school were Italian but they learned to speak Polish and English.

Megan:
So it was a very multi-cultural area?

Mary:
Yes. We were taught by nuns. When we got to 9th grade, high school was then 9th grade, they didn’t have middle school, and that was a real awakening when you’re mixed in with a class of 500 kids [laughter].

Megan:
Was the high school secular, or public?

Mary:
Yes, it was a public school. It was the only one in Kingston, so kids really came from all over to go there. Busing had just started when I was in high school. We walked to school. It was a two-mile walk, but you didn’t get bused, unless you lived outside of the city of Kingston, and even then it was very few buses.

Megan:
Did you walk to school in elementary school also?

Mary:
Yes. That was right in the neighborhood.

Megan:
I understand that you got started in what became your profession in high school?

Mary:
I did, yes. Then it was the pilot program for what is now BOCES. They didn’t call it BOCES then, but they offered the trades to the high school students in their junior and senior year, and they did nursing, electrical, plumbing, carpenter, hairdressing, and it mainly went along [gender] lines. The girls took nursing and cosmetology and the boys took the plumbing and the electrical and that’s the way it was then. And the thing that really led me to that is that I had a cousin who had a hair salon in our neighborhood and from little up, if I wasn’t at my dad’s working, I was over there helping her work in her hair salon, and that’s what got me started in the business.

Megan:
What did you like when you visited your cousin’s business?

Mary:
Oh, I liked being with all the ladies and doing hair, as much as I could do at that time. That was always fun, but I was a people-person, so I enjoyed whatever I did as long as I was talking to people.

Megan:
Did you get to help out with sweeping?

Mary:
Oh yeah, taking perm rods out and rollers out at that time, and then learning how to shampoo and bringing them coffee. Everybody in those days sat under hairdryers with their rollers in their hair, so it was fun.

Megan:
With your dad’s business, what did you like about that?

Mary:
Same thing, mostly being with the people, ringing them out, kidding around. One thing my parents had, especially my mom and her family, was a sense of humor so we were always kidding around, always laughing, always a good time. Liking people a lot, [it] was nice to be with people all the time.

Megan:
How did you get involved in this pilot program? Did people ask you, did you have to go to a [guidance counselor]?

Mary:
No, they just started it in the junior year and everybody that wanted to do it signed up for it, and I knew that that was going to be good for me because I always figured I would have a job in my cousin’s salon, but after going through two years of it you realize you don’t want to work in a little salon, you want to be out there amongst all the big stars in the industry, so [laughter] I moved on.

Megan:
What kind of training was involved in that program?

Mary:
Well, it was a half a day, every day that you were in school for two years, and then we did not have to do summer school at that time. I think our school year was longer than it is today because we needed a thousand hours, and along with that, we would go to a lot of shows. We would shadow in businesses, and of course I didn’t have to shadow in my cousin’s salon. I would go into bigger salons and do shadowing, so that’s kind of where you get the excitement for the industry.

Megan:
You were around sixteen to eighteen [years old] during this program?

Mary:
Yes.

Megan:
What aspects of cosmetology did you learn about?

Mary:
Well, back then, it was a lot of perms more so than colors, colors was probably second on the list and then of course, cutting and styling. We had a pretty good teacher in school who encouraged us to be competitive so to enter a lot of competitions with styles and that was always fun, because that gave us an opportunity to compete with big schools. We considered our school a small school which was 500 kids, where there were students that had thousands of kids in their classes, so that was always fun for us.

Megan:
There were competitions?

Mary:
Mmhmm, you did styling competitions.

Megan:
Now how did that work, exactly?

Mary:
You would enter like a preliminary with schools, and it would be by the process of elimination of who they felt could bring the school to a trophy, basically, so a lot of us competed in that.

Megan:
And were there judges?

Mary:
Mmhmm, yeah.

Megan:
So you competed in many, multiple competitions?

Mary:
Quite a few. I liked competing. I never made it all the way to New York competing, but I made it to some of the bigger school competitions and kids from bigger areas definitely had an advantage over smaller towns.

Megan:
Did you ever get to meet other people in the industry?

Mary:
I didn’t do that until I moved to Connecticut and then after being in this industry on the hairdressing end of it, I went into sales for, we call, a beauty supply house, and I actually met what people would consider the movie stars of the industry, who were the people that went onstage, did the competitions, sold the products. We did a lot of backstage work for them and so that was really informative. Probably learned more in those four years than I did in all my years previously in hairdressing. Because you’re working backstage with the best of the best.

Megan:
What kinds of things did you get the most out of [from that experience]?

Mary:
Probably cutting, because it’s really the basis of everything, so a lot of cutting and color, a lot of perms started to go away and color was the big thing, so [I] learned a lot of that.

Megan:
So it was more about the techniques involved?

Mary:
Mmhmm.

Megan:
You went to Connecticut directly after high school?

Mary:
No, my first job was up in Woodstock, which was about nine miles from where I lived, and the only thing I had was a little Honda 50 at that time, which was a little motor scooter. I used to ride that back and forth to work, and I worked there probably in my last year of high school. I worked there from about February on until maybe the following September, October and then I just couldn’t do winters on a motor scooter anymore [laughter], so I went into a salon in a department store, which was a chain of salons out of New Hampshire and worked there, and within a matter of months got the manager’s job and then that salon actually grew to 11 girls that we had working there, and I worked for that company for about 10 years and I opened salons for that company in New York and would kind of troubleshoot a little bit in New Hampshire and Rhode Island for the owner.

Megan:
So you moved up pretty quickly.

Mary:
Mmhmm, I liked it, that’s why.

Megan:
How did one become a manager so quickly?

Mary:
Well, I was real responsible, after growing up in a business, you knew what you had to do, and the owner of the company, of course, saw that I was always there, that I needed to be there, that I could handle people well, people that worked for me, along with customers, so it wasn’t long and I was running the place [laughter], which was nice.

Megan:
Were you living at home, when you worked [there]?

Mary:
No, I was married.

Megan:
So you lived nearby?

Mary:
Mmhmm, I was in Kingston.

Megan:
...and the salon in the department store....

Mary:
...was also in Kingston and then I moved on to a car [laughter].

Megan:
So your “first” job wasn’t really your first job...

Mary:
What do you mean?

Megan:
You had been working for [longer] than most people [laughter].

Mary:
Oh, absolutely yes, yeah.

Megan:
Would you say you had a work ethic already in place?

Mary:
From little up, oh yeah, everybody in our family [did].

Megan:
Do you think that came naturally, or was it instilled in you?

Mary:
Well, I think because of who your parents are, it’s kind of natural and it’s instilled in you. You have to be a good, kind person and a hard worker. The good, kind person came from my mother and the hard worker came from my father [laughter].

Megan:
So you moved to Connecticut after Kingston?

Mary:
No, actually, from Kingston, my husband, my ex-husband, he was my husband at the time, was working, after he left my father’s employment, he went to work for Philip Morris, so we had moved around, because he was growing with the company at that point, so I had left my position and we had moved to Syracuse for a short time. I didn’t work then, then I had my third baby, and from there, we moved to Cooperstown. When my little one was about three and a half, I opened up a salon.

Megan:
In Cooperstown?

Mary:
In Cooperstown, yes, Smooth Operators. We were in there about three years, and then we moved into Connecticut at that point, and that’s when I went into sales for a beauty supply house. We were over in Connecticut about four years and came back to Cooperstown, at that point opened up The Clip Joint, and had that for probably about seven years, until I became allergic to colors and perms.

Megan:
Had you developed an allergy?

Mary:
Yes. And I knew that at that point I had to make a choice. I only had one set of lungs, so I just went into cutting, and that’s when I opened up Shortcuts. I still had The Clip Joint for about a year or two, and then I sold that, knowing that I would be okay doing just cuts.

Megan:
So you were, for a time, doing both, Clip Joint and...?

Mary:
I wasn’t in The Clip Joint, because of the smells.

Megan:
But you owned it?

Mary:
But I owned it, yeah.

Megan:
At the same time as Shortcuts?

Mary:
Yes, and that was for about probably 18 months or so. Then the girl that was working for me at The Clip Joint bought it from me and she kept it until two years ago, and she sold it and came to work for me at Shortcuts.

Megan:
Let’s go back a little bit.
[START OF TRACK 2, 0:00]
Megan:
Your husband at the time worked in Syracuse for Philip Morris?
Mary:
Mmhmm. He started working for them in Kingston. He was in sales on the road. And then when we moved up to Syracuse, he was in management, and then when we moved to Connecticut, he was, I would have to say in troubleshooting, where he would go into districts and find out what the problem was with either the management or the sales force and, the lingo was, to “clean it up.” Fire who needed to be fired, hire new people. After he would do that, a lot of times we would just get transferred out of there. So we were there about four years and then moved back over here, because he had to, at that point, clean up the Binghamton area. So that brought us back here.

Megan:
Did he ever work in Cooperstown?

Mary:
Not in Cooperstown itself.

Megan:
Nearby?

Mary:
I think maybe Oneonta was the closest that he worked around here, in some of the stores, the rest of them were probably in Utica and Binghamton.

Megan:
So how did you end up in Cooperstown?

Mary:
When we were in Syracuse, his family was from New York, from Queens, and we used to drive down there for holidays and everything, or to Kingston, and we would take every road possible through the country, and we would ride through all these little towns and say, “Who the hell lives here? [laughter] What do they do?” [laughter] Never thinking that one day might be us. When we realized we were being transferred back into the area, we thought, maybe we should go country, instead of moving to Utica or to Binghamton, so we looked at houses around Cooperstown and Hartwick and we settled on a house in Hartwick that was from 1870 that had barely been touched; it had all the original woodwork and it was just beautiful. So we decided to restore that, and that’s how we ended up here.

Megan:
[Laughter] So you yourselves did the restoring of the house?

Mary:
Not a lot of it. We did some minor stuff. We had to hire people to do all the heavy work. We didn’t really know too much about it. Plus, we were both working.

Megan:
How long did a restoration like that take?

Mary:
We were in that house eight years and still did not finish it.

Megan:
Oh wow.

Mary:
The main part of the house was done.

Megan:
But it’s a long process.

Mary:
Long process.

Megan:
[Do] you recommend doing house restorations?

Mary:
No [laughter]. No.

Megan:
Not one of your top favorite things to do?

Mary:
No [laughter] [unclear].

Megan:
So you’ve lived in some very different places in the northeast. What would you say the differences are, [between] places that you’ve lived?

Mary:
Growing up in Kingston, that was still considered a small town, and when you’re in a neighborhood, and you’re little, the neighborhood is all that you really know. We didn’t do a real lot of traveling, I think the furthest we ever got from Kingston was maybe Cape Cod, on vacation. And going from Kingston to Syracuse, of course Syracuse was a big city. We lived in the suburbs, though, which was nice, with the availability of the arts and a lot of places to go for young families at that time. We had kids, so being close to a big city was nice. From there, we moved country, and it was nice to be in a little village like Hartwick, because the kids did have friends to play with, because it was a little neighborhood again. From there we moved to Connecticut. No matter where you were in Connecticut, even though we were in the country, it was kind of like being in a big city. A big Boston influence in Connecticut. Connecticut’s a very clean state, very expensive. I always say it’s very clean because all the houses looked perfect [laughter]. All the cars were clean. You hit Otsego County and your car gets dirty [laughter]. But I actually like living in the country the best.

Megan:
Why is that?

Mary:
I just think people are nice. And then it’s nice to go to work and come home and look out on the property and not see anything, and being in a tourist town is nice, because it’s very, very busy in the summer and yet in the winter I can drive four miles to work and not see a car sometimes. It’s the best of both worlds, I think, living around here.

Megan:
Tell me about the different salons that you’ve owned in Cooperstown.

Mary:
I must say that The Clip Joint was probably the most high fashion that I owned, when I came back from Connecticut with such a wealth of knowledge after working behind the scenes. The Clip Joint was really as close as you could get to “big city” in a small town, as far as a salon went, and that was a good time, lots of fun, lots of high fashion, people that wanted it. It’s not the norm around here, so that was a good thing; moving on into just cuts, and having a huge male clientele and “low-maintenance women,” we call it, women that are not high fashion. I think that’s what I really like the best, because I think I like real people the best that you can kid with every day and know that they’re going through everything that you’re going through. The fun is overwhelming and the honesty of the people. It’s a good working environment, and I think that’s why I have people that have been with me a long time, and the person that bought the salon from me, Jeanette, is now working for me. We have a good time. There’s a lot of days that every day, she’ll say she enjoys coming to work, and that’s a compliment to an owner to hear something like that.

Megan:
Would you say having a good work environment certainly helps the business overall?

Mary:
Mmhmm. Absolutely. Yeah. If you like going to work, it’s not like going to work; you’re just going every day some place and it’s like a social environment and it’s fun. That’s probably the most important thing for anybody, though, to like what they do, because if you don’t like it, it’s going to work.

Megan:
I understand that you are an artist?

Mary:
Oh, somewhat. [Laughter] It was my passion, always, growing up, yeah. I did a lot of different things, probably because of my proximity to Woodstock and knowing that you’re growing up liking to do artsy stuff [laughter].

Megan:
What kind of art have you done?

Mary:
Well, I started out, actually, with leather work and sold a lot of that in Woodstock and also in the Rhinebeck area, which was just a small, growing community at that time. Now it’s a big, thriving art community. From that I moved on to a lot of knitting and then designing knitting patterns for yarn companies, getting published several times.

Megan:
Getting published?

Mary:
Yes.

Megan
In...?

Mary:
Different magazines: the sweater, and the directions. So that was a big plus.

Megan:
Sounds great! How did you get to be in a magazine?

Mary:
I would submit different sketches of sweaters that I designed and then they would either give me a [thumbs]-up or no. If they liked the sweater, then they would say what kind of yarn they wanted it in and send me yarns to do it in, several different kinds, and I would make up the sweater and the pattern and send it back to them and they would pick one and go from there and they would buy it from me, so I used to do those a couple years, and that’s when I was really home with my littlest, my youngest. I did that probably three and a half, four years.

Megan:
I understand that you also went to college for...

Mary:
Mmhmm. Went to college at night. Art was my major, and my sister and brother, we all went to college at night, which was also a lot of fun, because we did a lot of classes all at the same time and all having different last names, the teachers never knew who we were, and my sister was an “A” student, I think I told you, I was a “B,” my brother was a “C,” [laughter] but we always had a good time doing that. We had a two-family house and my sister and her husband rented the upstairs from my husband and I, and what we would do is she would do cooking, because she liked to cook, her husband did a lot of repairs, because he liked to do a lot of repairs. What I would do is everybody’s hair or any sewing or any wallpapering or painting that anybody needed in the house, and then my husband would do a lot of meat cutting so that we could get our meals from my dad’s store [laughter]. So, the four of us, between working and going to school, we also had a good time living in the same house.

Megan:
And did that work well?

Mary:
It worked well. We were there probably three years, and then my husband and I ended up moving. We bought an old barn that we restored and turned it into a house and kept the two-family house for a while, and then my sister bought it from us.

Megan:
So your ex-husband did meat cutting...

Mary:
Yeah, my dad trained him to be a butcher.

Megan:
...And he ended up going into sales.

Mary:
Yes. He ended up working for Philip Morris, and at that time, you worked for a tobacco company, but tobacco was not bad—nobody knew that back then. It wasn’t until actually my kids were probably in fifth and sixth grade that they didn’t want to tell anybody who their dad worked for because by then, everybody discovered tobacco was bad for you, and they didn’t want anybody to know that he worked for a tobacco company, so we kind of lived quietly [laughter].

Megan:
Had he originally planned to go into butchering, or...?

Mary:
No, he did that because my dad needed somebody when he got the store back, so my ex-husband at that time was working for Singer Sewing Machine, so he quit that job and went to work for my dad, and that’s how he ended up learning how to be a butcher, being in the store.

Megan:
Were you married at that point?

Mary:
Mmhmm. Yep, got married at 18, so, married a long time.

Megan:
Did you go to high school with him?

Mary:
Yes. I knew him from probably sixth grade, because his family was from Queens but they used to summer in Kingston, so, met him in the summertime.

Megan:
Going back to your businesses in Cooperstown, were they downtown?

Mary:
Smooth Operators was on Grove Street. When I opened that up, there was another little business in the same building, it was Rod’s TV and Appliance. They were the people that owned the building, and went into that space. They had an empty space there, and did that until, let’s see, we were there from... I’m trying to think what year that was that we were there, ’85 to ’88. Yeah, and then I was gone from ’88 to ’92 in Connecticut, and then in ’93 opened up the Clip Joint, and that was downtown on upper Main Street.

Megan:
Shortcuts is not in downtown Cooperstown...

Mary:
Correct. I call it the mall [laughter]. It’s as close as we’ll get to a mall [laughter].

Megan:
What went into that decision to go to Hartwick?

Mary:
Well the allergies, and I needed a space to be. At that time it was a barber shop, and the barber had called several salons and wanted to know if anybody wanted to buy his business, because he wanted to retire. I just thought it was meant to be, so I bought his business from him. At that time it was all men, and [I] learned to do really good men’s haircuts from him and that’s how that got started, and that just kind of turned into men and women at that point.

Megan:
What are the differences between cutting men’s hair and cutting women’s hair?

Mary:
Not a lot. We always say, you cut a woman’s hair round, and a man’s hair square, and I know that sounds strange, but that’s one of the things that I had learned when I was working for the company out of Connecticut, because I worked behind the stage. I would never have known that before, but the shape of what you do to a man’s hair is different than the shape that you do to a woman’s hair, and that’s the only thing, you cut a woman’s hair round and a man’s hair square [laughter].

Megan:
What about children hair cutting, is that any different?

Mary:
No, kids can be either fun to cut or they can be very trying to cut, but all in all, most kids, ninety percent of them are just fun to have sitting in your chair, and you get that ten percent that are basically scared, and they don’t even know what’s going on, but they go through phases. Kids are really your future, so you want to be okay with them, because they’re going to grow up. Today I’m doing kids of kids that I have done, so I’ve done their parents, and the moms and the dads and now the little kids who are now seven, eight, nine years old, so, kind of fun.

Megan:
So it’s a perpetuating clientele.

Mary:
Mmhmm. Absolutely. Everybody needs haircuts.

Megan:
Yes, that’s true [laughter]!

Mary:
Yep [laughter].

Megan:
Can you tell me [about] some of the challenges you have faced or do face in running your own business?

Mary:
The biggest challenge is probably, well, there’s two that are probably very side-by-side. One is when you get people who don’t show up for work at a moment’s notice, and the other one is, you’re always worried that your business is going to fall off, because even a snowstorm can change your business for a week, because if you don’t have any business for a whole day, you have absolutely no money, so there’s a lot of challenges in that in this area, or if something should happen and the power goes out, that also can do a whole day’s worth of business, and in a small business, that means a lot, because it’s a small business; there’s not a lot of big money. So I think that’s a lot of the challenge. Then of course if somebody doesn’t show up for work, you have to cover for them, and I hate to make people wait. I want to just get them in and get them cut because they’re in a hurry; life is busy today.

Megan:
With Shortcuts, you have multiple people in your business?

Mary:
Mmhmm. And now Jeanette, who came from The Clip Joint, actually does colors, she does a few perms; if she does a perm, I leave and go walk around the building for twenty minutes so I don’t smell that. The colors of today are a lot more friendly, as far as breathing goes, than they were years ago. They’ve eliminated so much of the bad stuff in it, so I can be in the salon when she does colors, and then we have a pedicurist and a manicurist and she does facials, so it makes us a full-service salon, not just cuts anymore. So the business grew and so it’s still more of a challenge, because we’re in a bigger spot now, so the rents are bigger, the heating is bigger, the electric is bigger, everything costs more, so you just keep hoping it doesn’t snow [laughter].

Megan:
You are very close to the [Cooperstown] Dreams Park...

Mary:
Mmhmm.

Megan:
...which started, I believe, in 1996, and would you say that has changed your business at all?

Mary:
Well, in the summertime, they are a big asset. Because of life being so busy, people that come for the week, most of the parents are working parents and a lot of them either do not have time to get their hair cut before they get here, or know that they’re not going to have time when they go back home, so we end up doing haircuts for them. Since we brought on the pedicurist and the manicurist, a lot of women get that done, so that was a big asset for our business.

Megan:
How would you say the whole Cooperstown area has changed since [the Dreams Park opened]?

Mary:
I think it is just totally tourist-based now, which is a little bit frightening, because now all the eggs are in one basket, and it’s almost all tourist-based for the Dreams Park, nothing else. I don’t think we have a good infrastructure. If businesses were to come here, I’m not even sure there’s a go-to person in Cooperstown that you could go to and say, I want to open up a pen-making company or a head trauma center, who would they go to, there’s not a go-to business person. That I think is lacking maybe not only in Cooperstown, but maybe in the whole county, so I don’t know if we could grow business here. And having everything based with the Dreams Park, that really puts us at their mercy, and it’s a little bit frightening.

Megan:
How is business different in the wintertime from the summertime?

Mary:
Well, in the wintertime, anybody that can leave the area and all the retired people who are the people of means, leave. They start leaving in October and by the week after New Year’s, most of them are gone, so the population for my business falls off a lot. By March, people do start coming back. February, anybody that can go on vacation is gone, so February is our slowest month, and I think in the wintertime, everybody who is Dreams Park-income-based is spending all their money getting ready for the next influx of Dreams Park people again, me included, I am now in the rental business also, because I know that if my winter business falls off a lot, I’ve got something coming in the summertime as far as rent goes, which is Dreams Park-based.

Megan:
Do you rent to businesses or...

Mary:
I rent to families coming in by the week. Yes. And that again goes to infrastructure of what’s here. The sad thing is, the new hotels that are being built have everything the people want. The houses that the people rent have everything they want, i.e. internet, TVs in every room, swimming pools, whereas the older places up on the lake complain a lot, they don’t have phones in the rooms, some of them, now they’re all getting that, but I can remember when the Dreams Park first got here, there were no phones in the rooms for people. That’s kind of a frightening thing when people are coming from a bigger area. So that goes back to infrastructure of different places that don’t keep up with the times.

Megan:
What do you think Cooperstown and Hartwick would need to do to support a bigger business area?

Mary:
Wow. I think that speaking from Hartwick, I think Hartwick needs to have a plan of where businesses should and should not be. The Route 28 corridor, a lot of that’s the town of Hartwick, that’s an optimum place for businesses, whereas they should try to keep as much of the rest of it as residential as possible. The little village, the little hamlet of Hartwick would be fabulous if it could do a little something downtown, but I don’t know if that’ll ever happen. They don’t have a lot of infrastructure, and the draw to get people to even drive through. Cooperstown—people are mad at baseball, so that has fallen off a lot. I don’t think the numbers of the Hall of Fame would be what they are if it wasn’t for the fact that everybody that comes to the Dreams Park gets a certain number of tickets to go to the Hall of Fame. When we first moved to this area, people wanted people to come for more than just a day, but yet they didn’t do anything to get them here for more than [one] day, to spend a whole day here, and then you were gone, because there wasn’t much else to do. The museums are nice; I don’t know how they do anymore. I think the carousel was a big draw at The Farmers’ Museum, and it depends on what the exhibit is at the Fenimore House, but it’s hard to get the baseball people to go to either of those, because they keep them in the park a lot, so you need something else, and the only thing that seems to be happening is breweries and distilleries, so [laughter] I don’t know if that’s going to be a good mix or not [laughter], baseball and booze [laughter].

Megan:
As a...
[START OF TRACK 3, 0:00]

Megan:
...female business owner, have you had any special challenges owning your own business?

Mary:
Not really. I think this industry is very friendly to females, so I don’t think there was any challenge, plus I never even thought of myself as a female business owner, just a business owner [laughter].

Megan:
Are most of the people in the industry female?

Mary:
I would say a good portion are female, yes. Probably eighty percent is female, twenty percent is male, and the hardest thing about the industry, unless you’re working for big companies, you have to be responsible for your own benefits, and that’s a difficult thing, so usually it ends up being somebody who is dependent on somebody else for those benefits, and that’s how most of it ends up being wives of people that are with big companies.

Megan:
Because it just lends itself...

Mary:
Mmhmm. Yep.

Megan:
...to that. I understand that your brother also went into business?

Mary:
Yes. He has, it’s called [unclear] Services, it’s like a service master or a Fire-Dex company. They go in and do restoration after what would be a fire or wind damage, a flood. So he goes in and he would restore that building or whatever it was that something happened to, so he was in business for a lot of years. Still is.

Megan:
And your sister?

Mary:
Academia.

Megan:
Academia.

Mary:
She worked in the school system while she was in high school and continued, along with going to college at night and having her family, and helping to put her husband through school until he got his PhD. She went on to get her PhD, stayed in academia, was a dean of a college, but that’s what she really liked. She liked everything in education.

Megan:
Why, do you think, [that] both you and your brother ended up going into business?

Mary:
I think probably because both of us were the “B” and “C” students [laughter]. We were not willing to work that hard to get that “A,” whereas my sister really wanted that “A.” That meant a lot to her and I think my brother and I just were worried about having a good time. I think we really just enjoyed people so much that that was where our focus was, working with people.

Megan:
You said that you have children.

Mary:
Mmhmm. Three.

Megan:
Three, and I understand two of them...

Mary:
Two are in the restaurant business.

Megan:
...also went into business. Do you think there was some correlation between you owning businesses?

Mary:
Probably. Yeah. It’s not what they went to college for. They both worked their way through college in restaurants, as most kids do, and I think that’s how they ended up with their love for the restaurant business, but their father, and of course my father, were the cooks in the family, so that [gave them a] little bit of that edge of being good cooks, all three of my children have that. The one that I thought would’ve been in the restaurant business is not. The other two are, and they’re doing well.

Megan:
What do you think makes a good business?

Mary:
Probably consistency. You have to be there when you say you’re going to be there; you have to give a good product, charge a fair price. That is probably the most important thing, is just being there when you’re supposed to be there, because a lot of people depend on that. If you stop to get a dozen eggs at a market and they didn’t have them on Monday, and you went back on Tuesday and they didn’t have a dozen eggs on Tuesday, I don’t know if you would go there on Wednesday to get a dozen eggs. On Thursday they might say, where were you Wednesday, I had a dozen eggs for you but, say, oops, sorry, so you have to be there, and you have to be ready to work and produce for the customer.

Megan:
What would be some good advice that you have either received or that you have learned on your own to business owners?

Mary:
I think mostly from my parents is patience, from my mom, mostly patience with people, because people are always right, no matter what [laughter], as much as you know they might not be, you have to think that they think that you think that they are [laughter]. So mostly patience.

Megan:
What would you say you are most proud of in your life?

Mary:
I’d have to say my children, definitely, yeah. Hardworking kids, every one of them. Good people. Yeah. And I think if you can say that, you’ve said it all [laughter], yeah.

Megan:
How has owning your own businesses changed you as a person?

Mary:
I think work is such a priority with me, so maybe that’s not good, I don’t know, but I like to work, and of course, because I like to work, it’s not like going to work, so I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. There are people that do much more important things than I do and like what they do, which is so important. I have [doctors] that come in and get their hair cut and could retire but they won’t retire because they love being a doctor, and I just think how important that is, because without that, we’re lacking a lot, then, so, yeah.

Megan:
Where do you hope your business will be in the future?

Mary:
I think what I will do is sell in a few years to one of the girls that works for me, and I have a little grandson that I watch a lot, because his dad has the Redneck Bar-B-Que, so every summer, I have him probably from May through October, full-time. I think he and I are going to have some fun [laughter]. So the business won’t be mine anymore. I’ll probably keep my rental properties and spend summers here but maybe do some traveling with that little guy, which will be fun [laughter].

Megan:
Alright. Well thank you very much.

Mary:
You’re welcome. It was good to do.

Megan:
Yes. Thank you so much.

Duration

30:00 Part 1
30:00 Part 2
09:15 Part 3

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 Kbps

Files

Citation

Megan Culbert, “Mary Cassell, December 3, 2013,” CGP Community Stories, accessed August 7, 2020, http://cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/153.