Looking sharp: Hue’s Barber Shop opens in Northampton

  • Hue Pepin cuts Bill Michalowski’s hair at her new barber shop at 128 King St. in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Photos of the boat Hue Pepin came to United Sates on from Vietnam. Pepin, who worked in the barber shop in Florence for years, recently opened her own place on King Street in Northampton. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Hue Pepin cuts Bill Michalowski's hair at her new spot on King Street in Northampton. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Hue Pepin worked in the barber shop in Florence for years, recently opened her own place on King Street in Northampton. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • After working at Florence Barber Shop for 23 years, Hue Pepin opened her own business on King Street in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 8/10/2022 5:59:34 PM
Modified: 8/10/2022 5:56:19 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Hue Pepin learned to cut hair when she was 14, shortly after she was let go from her job in a Vietnamese garment factory. Today, she serves customers who have come to her for nearly half a century and recently opened a new location with a goal of attracting newcomers every day.

A second-time customer who visited Hue’s Barber Shop at 128 King St. — Hue is pronounced “way” — last Friday was so impressed with his first experience that he brought Pepin a bag of fresh peppers and tomatoes. On the wall hangs an autographed photo of media personality Rachel Maddow that reads, “Thank you for keeping me looking sharp for so many years.”

“My profession, I get a lot of clientele through word of mouth,” Pepin, 73, said. “I have a customer from Hartford who came back to get a haircut yesterday. I cut his hair when he was very little and now he’s moved on with a career and everything. He’s going on vacation and then to Japan, so he had to come see me for the haircut that he wants.”

Pepin and her 11 siblings, known then by the family name Tran, and their parents immigrated from Vietnam after the fall of Saigon to the North Vietnamese Army in 1975, which brought about the end of the Vietnam War. Pepin was 28 years old, already a successful barber with a half-dozen employees, and the family spent six months in a refugee camp upon their arrival in the U.S. before settling in Northampton.

Photos on display at Hue’s Barber Shop show the ship MS Truong Xuan before its voyage to America; Pepin said she is visible among the throng of people in one photo and her car can be seen on the dock in another. As she stood aboard the ship with her family, she said, she watched someone steal her car, unable to do anything about it.

Her family was sponsored by local faith organizations and lived for a time at the former Sacred Heart Church convent; initially offered menial jobs like chopping vegetables due to her inability to speak English, Pepin refused and insisted on continuing as a barber. She found work at Razor’s Edge in Easthampton and said she was able to communicate with American customers by learning to ask “how much ear” they wanted to show.

After Hue married Dan Pepin and spent some time raising their children at home, she eventually landed a job at Florence Barber Shop and kept it for 23 years.

On May 26, she opened her own spot in the former Premo’s Cuts location near the intersection of King and North streets.

“The goal was to have one new customer a day,” Dan Pepin said. “Some days, it’s three new customers.”

He said his wife provides an old-style haircut in all the right ways and “cleans up the neck with a straight-edge razor and shaving cream.”

Hue agreed, describing her style as “traditional” with nothing “fancy.” She said the people sitting in her barber’s chair can “say anything to me and you’ll never see me upset” because she’s a good listener.

“I always say that mom can talk about anything with anybody, at any time,” Hue’s daughter Amy Pepin said. “What sets apart mom, and the barber shop, is mom. … Mom wants to work. She wants to be around her clients. She’s a part of their lives, whether it’s their first haircut or, in some cases, their last haircut. She’s with people for the duration.”

Hue said she is proud of her career and service to her clients, which is what keeps her working long after others might have retired.

“That’s why I still stand here: I need to,” she said. “I treat them the way I want to be treated.”

One client has come to Hue for 45 years, no matter where she was working, and now, due to her advanced age and their longstanding relationship, Hue gives her haircuts at home; everyone else can get theirs at Hue’s Barber Shop between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m., every day except weekends and Wednesdays.

Brian Steele can be reached at bsteele@gazettenet.com.

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