Fresh out of the Army, Cecil Snyder needed a job — but not one that would have him sitting behind a desk all day.
He was looking for something creative, something cutting edge.
Maybe he would become a hair stylist.
But as a young cosmetology student, he had a lot of self doubt.
He wondered if he had the talent.
He wondered if it was the right career choice.
If he only could have seen into the future.
Snyder, owner of Cecil's Coiffures, has been snipping and styling hair for 50 years.
At the height of his career, he had three salons operating at the same time, he said. He had more than 30 employees, some of whom went on to open their own businesses.
Today, after decades in the hair-styling industry, Snyder is still going strong.
"I guess you could say I made the right decision," he said.
Finding passion in hair
Sitting inside his current shop on West Franklin Street, Snyder recently reminisced about his years as a hair stylist and the many changes he's seen in his profession.
"And after 50 years, I've seen a lot," he said.
Snyder said he grew up in Welsh Run, Pa., graduated from Lemasters High School (now James Buchanan) and went off to study at Hagers-town Business College.
"I thought I would work in an office. I was trained to work in an office," he said. "And I hated every minute of it."
But before Snyder could rethink his job opportunities, he was drafted during the Korean War and served two years in the U.S. Army.
As his service was coming to and end, Snyder began thinking about what he would do when he returned home.
"I wanted to be creative," he said. "And, for some reason, I thought about becoming a hair stylist. I decided to attend Hagerstown Beauty School."
But he wasn't confident he was cut out for the business.
"I remember very vividly asking the owners if they thought I could do this," Snyder said. "If they didn't think I was qualified, I wanted to know. They assured me I would do just fine."
In 1961, Snyder became a licensed cosmetologist.
Following his training, he went to work at LeMar Beauty Salon, which was located on Summit Avenue.
The salon made several downtown location moves before the owner decided she wanted to sell.
She encouraged Snyder to open his own shop.
"But I was married with two sons," he said. "I couldn't afford to buy my own place."
So, instead, the two became partners and Cecil's Coiffures was born.
Snyder said he took advantage of space at what is the former Ames Shopping Center on the Dual Highway and began to build a bustling business and eventually became a solo owner.
A growing business
As Snyder's clientele grew, so did his salons. Having three salons in the Hagerstown area was quite an accomplishment, he said.
"I had great employees, great managers — all of whom were very conscientious workers," he said.
And he was busy going from salon to salon, styling hair, taking inventory, making sure everything was running smoothly.
"At the time, I didn't think about how much work it was," he said. "It was a business. My wife helped with the bookkeeping — and the payroll at that time was big. But when you're young, you don't think twice. You just plunge right in."
Snyder said he became actively involved in the National Cosmetology Association and became the local chairman and later president of the state branch.
"I was very much involved in our profession in so many aspects," he said.
A highlight of his activism was when the cosmetologists took on Maryland barbers, who didn't want men going to salons for haircuts.
"They didn't think we were qualified, which was absurd," he said. "Plus, men were beginning to want more than just a cut. They wanted styling and perms. They wanted to come to us for all of their hair needs. We took the fight to Annapolis and won."
Snyder said he also was a state board examiner for 12 years and has done substitute teaching at Washington County Technical High School's cosmetology program.
Changes in styles
Over his 50 years in the business, Snyder said he has seen every hairstyle imaginable.
He has seen hair go straight, curly, short, long and everything in between.
"And what goes around comes around," he said. "Nothing is really new anymore."
He also has seen beauty shops become spas, where clients can get manicures, pedicures, facials and massages.
And he remembers when a woman's hair-cut cost $5.
But, despite all the changes, Snyder said cosmetologists can thank two inventions for revolutionizing their profession — the curling iron and the blow dryer.
"They brought about the quick service we can now provide customers," he said.
As more and more women joined the workforce, Snyder said, they often would use their lunch hours to get their hair done.
"But, years ago, getting your hair styled meant a shampoo, curlers and going under a dryer. That took much longer than one hour," he said.
"Now, clients can come in and be out in 20 minutes. Those devices were the greatest inventions."
Snyder said he has some clients who have been regulars for many years "but not too many. I've been in this business so long, I've lost a lot. Some have moved, others are in nursing homes or have passed on.
"But, over the years, all of my clientele has been fabulous, just fabulous," he said "They feel like family to me. You learn so much about their lives, about their relatives, their problems."
But mum is always the word, he stressed.
"My rule of thumb is you never gossip. You don't repeat conversations. You become a good listener because sometimes people just need someone to talk to."
In addition to styling hair, Snyder said, he has been a musician for much of his life.
"I played keyboards and also did vocals with several bands throughout the Tri-state area until about three or four years ago, when I decided to call it quits," he said. "We played great music, danceable music that was either Top 40 or country. But I just don't have the time to devote to it anymore."
Snyder said he's been at his current location since 1994 and employs five stylists and one barber.
His schedule is busy, but not as hectic as it once was "such as prom days which brought lots of girls into the salons for fancy hairdos like French twists and chandelier curls."
"There was a time when I would be at the salon until 8 or 9 o'clock at night serving clientele. Now, I can set my hours and enjoy my own pace," he said.
But that doesn't mean he has any intention of retiring.
"I still enjoy coming to work every day,'" he said. "I still really and truly enjoy what I do. The people I've met, the opportunities I've had — I consider myself very, very lucky."