Top Nabisco Pressman Starts Over at Age 54 To Open Salon - Mr. Bell's Story

Alvin Bell moved to Beacon from Virginia when jobs were scarce in the South, and booming in Beacon. Twenty-seven years later, Beacon hemorrhaged jobs and Mr. Bell quickly experienced again what he had fled in the first place. Now with deeper roots in the Hudson Valley, Mr. Bell stayed and did not move to pursue healthy job markets in other areas. Instead, he created his own. And he's still here, 25 years later in a barber shop. Many of you have sat in his red leather swivel hair chair, but some of you may not yet have walked in for a cut, or even peeked your head in to look inside of Main Street Beauty Salon. Well you can here, and after our interview with Mr. Bell for this edition of our "Come In!" series, Mr. Bell extends his walk-in invitation to you. Even if it's to play checkers with him. But watch out, he's the "Checker Champ!"

Barbershop owner Alvin Bell moved to Beacon from Virginia decades ago "when jobs were scarce in the South," according to the Beacon Historical Society's "Heroes of Main Street" book of profiles of longtime business owners in Beacon. At the time, Beacon was flourishing as a factory town. When Mr. Bell moved here, he took a job of pressman at the Nabisco Company right away, working in the building that is now Dia: Beacon. Rising up to become Top Pressman, Mr. Bell was "responsible for everything that came off the press," he says, which meant that he spent a lot of time under the large ceilings and north-facing skylights to inspect the color and design of everything printed.

That is, until Beacon went through a change of a different kind, and the factories began to empty out, including Nabisco. After 27 years, his position was downsized. Mr. Bell was left without a job at age 54, too young to start drawing from Social Security. That's when the lightening bolt of entrepreneurship hit him, and his life changed forever. Mr. Bell, a spiritual man, credits Proverbs 3:5-6 for his guidance: "He will direct your path." (Note: This is Mr. Bell's quote of the wording.)

"Out of nowhere, God gave me a vision," he recalls. Mr. Bell's wife, Shirley Bell, was "doing hair" as he calls it, and Mr. Bell always had dreams of opening a salon. He got a license, and moved forward even through his family "looked at me like I was a little crazy." However, his wife Shirley was excited, and he opened the shop as Main Street Unisex Salon, which he changed to Barber and Unisex Shop years later just to stir things up. It is currently called Main Street Beauty Salon.

At first, mothers brought in their kids, and their client base built up. The Bells dove into community work by giving away clothes and food. A spiritual man, Mr. Bell says "The spirits showed me how to run the business." Call it intuition or a good business sense, the path that Mr. Bell followed was clear for him from days after he got laid off, continuing today, and hopefully for many tomorrows.

When asked what he credits his success to, Mr. Bell looked straight ahead and out his storefront window, past the barber chairs and magazines and to Main Street and replied: "Be loyal to your customers. And be polite."

Though not a boastful man, Mr. Bell has kept his years of press coverage and special involvements in a cardboard box in the back of the shop, or has hung pictures on the wall. Insider info for you: There is one bit of printed press on the wall that identifies Mr. Bell as "Albert Bell." Believe us when we tell you his name is Alvin. But it's framed, and he blows it off with the brush of his hand, appreciating the acknowledgment.

A singer and performer in his heart, Mr. Bell relives the days of performing numerous times with Pete Seeger and other band members. Mr. Bell held a solo performance at the Howland Cultural Center in 2009, performing 10 songs by himself, a memory he is quite proud of and can re-live for probably the whole day with you if you stayed to get a perm.

A blue banner hangs above the barber shop on Main Street next to BJ's, congratulating Mr. Bell for 25 years in business. When the banner went up, his building's landlord, Janelle Piccone Styles, wrote into A Little Beacon Blog to make sure we knew about him, as she was responsible for making and hanging the sign. When asked what she thought was the reason for his success, she replied: "I would say Mr. Bell's attitude! He is always smiling, always has a kind word. It's contagious."

As for Mr. Bell's parting words and advice for staying in business: "Show love."

Sit if you dare, in Mr. Mac's chair at this checker board, and take on the Checker Champ, Mr. Bell. Tell us when you do - we'd love to watch and learn from both sides!