Valley News – Norwich show says goodbye to longtime regulars as business closes

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NORWICH — For the past decade, Jay Rimmel could count on his roughly once-a-month trip to Diane’s Casual Cuts to serve as both much-needed garnish and therapy session.

That’s because Rimmel stylist Laura Fraser was blasting 1970s jams off the radio while she cut her hair. The night before each date, she would call him and leave him a reminder message and drop hints about what songs they would be listening to, Rimmel said.

“They really got to know you,” he said.

And for 25 years, until their last day last Wednesday, Fraser and Diane Coley of Diane’s Casual Cuts in Norwich, did just that not just for Rimmel but for the dozens of regulars who walked through the side door of 309 Main St. .salon, which adjoins the famous Dan & Whit general store and is on Cats Corner opposite Norwich Green, has closed because owner Coley, after 44 years in the hairdressing business, is retiring and moving in Florida.

Coley and Fraser, the only other hairstylist at Diane’s, decided to make their last day a party for their clients and themselves. Throughout the day, old regulars stopped by to deliver cakes, sweets and hugs and revel in the lasting memories made in the shop – and maybe one last haircut.

At one point in the early afternoon, a group of customers gathered around Coley as she leafed through a scrapbook containing photos of her and Fraser’s haircutting journeys over the years. She stopped at a photo of Hilde Wood, founder and original owner of Hilde’s Salon Vienna in Hanover, where Coley worked from 1978 until she bought the space that became Diane’s, also of Wood, in 1997.

Coley called Wood the “matriarch” of a collection of Upper Valley barbers that have proliferated throughout the region since Wood’s retirement in the late 1990s (Wood, as Coley does now, retired in Florida). Coley noted that another Norwich hair salon, Andrea’s Hair Studio, is owned by another Wood sidekick.

“(Hilde) had three golden rules,” Coley said. “You don’t talk about religion, you don’t talk about politics and you don’t talk about gossip.”

Coley said Wood taught her to respect customers by always doing her best for them and speaking and listening when necessary.

“(Some customers) like to talk, which is fine, so they talk and I sit and listen,” Coley said. “You respect their ways, because some people need to make that known; they may not have anyone at home to talk to.

Fraser said she and Coley were just another part of Wood’s “saga.”

Mary Ayre, 78, sat on a wooden bench opposite reception and soaked up all the conversation and laughter. Ayre had been a regular at Diane since the mid-2000s, and although she didn’t need a haircut on Wednesday, she stopped by to hang out.

Ayre, who lives in Sharon, started going to Diane’s because she could stop by on her way home from work at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon. She kept coming back because she got along well with Fraser and Coley, calling the atmosphere inside Diane always “bubbly” despite how busy she might be on any given day.

Now retired, Ayre continued to make the trip to Norwich just for Diane.

Fraser “is too young to retire,” according to Coley, but she too is quitting hair care, choosing instead to move next door and work for Dan & Whit’s. Fraser is related by marriage to the family that owns the store. Fraser, through tears, said Coley taught her everything she knew about hairdressing and that she would never work for someone else to cut hair.

“We are a pair,” Fraser said.

But with Coley and Fraser both out of business, where will their regulars – “too many to count”, according to Coley and many of whom have had the same hairdresser for over 20 years – go now? The two tried to help them find new barbers by searching the area for stylists who could replicate their backs.

A predicament that neither Coley nor Fraser had thought about emerged Wednesday as the final hours of the show approached: Since Coley and Fraser had cut their hair, they would also have to find a new stylist.

A haircut is temporary, but the memories made and friendships forged over the past 25 years cannot be replaced.

Paul Doscher, another Fraser client who has been coming to Diane every four weeks since it opened, joked that he was going to put a sign outside the building for the new owners, who plan to renovate and open a new hair salon, which said, “You’ve got a lot to live for.”

Doscher said Fraser has known exactly how to cut his hair for the past 25 years and would never willingly switch to a new barber. He sat at Fraser’s booth while she swept up, put on her hairdresser’s bib and began to sing.

Fraser, dressed in a blue and purple sequined shirt, guessed the song Doscher was singing: goodbye yellow brick road by Elton John. Doscher then jumped into a story of seeing the British singer for the first time in concert while Fraser was cutting his locks.

The two dropped into the conversation like two old friends, which of course they were. Coley was already busy cutting the hair of another client, an older woman, who sat relaxed next to bouquets of flowers and “Happy retirement!” cards stacked on Coley’s booth as she worked.

Other regulars passed behind them, chatting and eating.

“I thought the party was going to be after work,” the older woman told Coley at the end of her session.

“Nuh-uh,” Coley replied. “It’s Customer Appreciation Day.”

Ray Couture can be reached at [email protected]

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