- Associated Press - Monday, October 3, 2016

NEW LONDON, Conn. (AP) - It’s as much a clubhouse as it is a barber shop.

Anyone looking for a haircut and lively conversation focused on sports, politics and current events, with some salty language thrown into the mix, knows where to find Louie Pica.

Since about 1966 he’s been a fixture at the Thames Barber Shop, 28 Methodist St., where he is usually joined by a core cast of characters reminiscent of the long-running sitcom “Cheers.” Like the visitors to the television show’s fictitious Boston pub, some of Pica’s patrons make visits to his shop on a daily basis.

Pica was honored earlier this September by the city’s Economic Development Commission, the mayor and City Council for not only his skills and longevity in business - more than 50 years - but also for his shop’s role as a cultural and civic gathering place in the heart of downtown.

Mayor Michael Passero said Thames Barber Shop represents a “cultural tradition in New London.”

“The name Lou Pica will always be associated with excellent customer service, good haircuts, great conversation, community spirit and entrepreneurship,” Passero said.

The plaque honoring his contributions graces the wall of his shop, taking its place among family photos and framed photos of New York Yankees baseball players such as Mickey Mantle and Derek Jeter.

Sports is a staple of conversation at the shop, Pica says, and he has been known to needle the Boston fans who come in.

“We talk about sports and politics in the shop and if not politics or sports, it’s about somebody else,” Pica said. “This is a real man’s barber shop. I’m not knocking others, but shops like this are gone like the old timers. They’re hairdressers today. You may see the barber poles spinning around, but that doesn’t mean there’s a barber there.”

Pica remembers a time when there were a dozen barber shops downtown.

Sue Cash, who works part time at the shop and wore a Red Sox cap at her interview for the job, smiles when recalling the number of times Pica and his customers have chatted about the “good ol’ days” and what downtown used to look like.

Pica has an uncanny recall when it comes to local history, she said, not only because he’s lived it, but “because he’s talked about it for the past 50 years,” she joked.

A New London native, Pica’s experience with the Thames Barber Shop traces back to his time shining shoes at age 10 at the shop’s former location, 25 Washington St.

After graduation from New London High School in 1949, Pica spent four years in the Navy, where he first started cutting hair. He became partners with Thames Barber Shop owner Ray Gentilella in 1957 and eventually took over the business.

On Tuesday, Pica stood at the front window of his shop and pointed to the parking lot near the Washington Street Café as the spot where the barber shop once stood. He also pointed to the location of the former Montgomery Ward building, state Department of Transportation offices and an area where his father, Rocco Pica, used to manage a parking lot.

He lamented the loss of so many downtown businesses as he does the passing of so many of his friends and former customers. Pica’s business partner of 42 years, Dan Cardillo, recently died, and he ticked off names of half a dozen regulars, like Bob Reagan, who have passed in the last several years.

“I still do well, but I’ve probably lost 20 to 25 customers that passed away since January,” he said. “It seems like it’s once a week.”

Still, he has kept faithful customers for decades and in some cases started cutting the hair of the sons of his old customers. Good haircuts and a shave can keep a patron coming back for life, he said.

Pica, who has two kids and three grandchildren, married Nadine Olsen in 1960 and said she’s asked about his desire to retire. He said he’s not sure what he would do with himself.

Cash also can’t envision Pica retiring - she said he has barely taken a day off in the seven years she’s worked there.

“I just couldn’t see him sitting home,” she said.

When he was asked by Economic Development Commission members for advice on how to succeed in business, Pica said it comes down to learning a skill and working hard.

“Barbering is what I know,” Pica said. “It’s all I ever really wanted to do. It is my skill and how I earn a living. I am still working hard … and enjoying it after 51 years.”

___

Information from: The Day, https://www.theday.com

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