I have been visiting and writing about North Adams for almost 18 years. One of my favorite landmarks in the city has been the sign for “Gloria’s Beauty Shop,” facing Main Street in one of the fourth floor windows of the Dowlin Block. I don’t know how many times I have wondered who Gloria was, and how long the shop had been there; but for some reason, I never followed up on it. Several years ago, I noticed that the sign had been moved to the third floor. Last year, it disappeared.
So when I started researching the Dowlin Block a few months ago, I went looking for Gloria. I asked my friend Justyna Carlson, of the North Adams Historical Society, if she knew anything about Gloria. She not only did, but she arranged for me to interview her. Several weeks later, I was sitting at Gloria’s kitchen table, a tape recorder placed front of her.
I immediately took a liking to her lively and warm personality, her strong opinions, and her sharp wit. I left wishing that I had caught up with her the first time I wondered who she was. She lived in the Dowlin Block for a very long 47 years. Unless someone can prove me wrong, that is longer than anyone else lived there. And she ran her beauty shop there for 58 years, making it the longest continuous business in the building. They ought to carve her name in one of Dowlin’s vaunted stone blocks.
Not surprisingly, she was unhappy about having to find another apartment, and about having to close her business. And don’t get her started on her displeasure with the plans to demolish the rear section of the Dowlin. “That’s a piece of history. I’m tired of watching my city get torn down, building by building.”
Gloria Marony was born in North Adams on December 11, 1930. Her father was Aldo Alfred Marony (originally Maroni). Her mother was Pauline Gregory (originally Gregori) Marony. Both were of Italian ancestry, but when they were born, the area where they lived was part of Austria. That changed after World War I. Pauline, born in 1904, landed at Ellis Island in 1920. Aldo, born in 1899, came over in 1923.
They were married shortly afterward, and moved to North Adams. But they left a couple of years later and lived in Brooklyn, New York, where Aldo worked for the railroad. Gloria told me that her father was a city man at heart. They had their first two children there, but returned to North Adams in the summer of 1930, just in time to make Gloria a North Adams native. Aldo died in 1965, and Pauline died in 1982.
I’ll let Gloria finish the story.
“My mother settled in North Adams on a Friday, and on Monday, she had a job waiting for her at the Hoosac Cotton Mill on Union Street. She couldn’t speak a word of English. She was getting $12.00 a week for 60 hours. Her father was working at Arnold Print Works in the color shop, and he was getting $9.00 a week for 60 hours.”
“When my mother came to North Adams, she lived on Francis Street. Eventually we moved to State Street, and then to 96 Union Street. My father was a carpenter at the Windsor Mill. Then we bought a house on High Street, and we were there for about five years; and then we bought the house at 12 Hudson Street. We were there for 38 years.”
“I went to Haskins School for three years, and then I attended St. Joseph’s Catholic School the last nine years. I graduated in 1949. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I couldn’t go to college, because we couldn’t afford it. A classmate named Alma Barnaby decided to go to hairdressing school in Pittsfield, so I figured I’d do it, too, and we could ride together.”
“I got my first hairdressing job in 1952, at the Vanity Beauty Shop, which was on the third floor of the Dowlin Block, in 304. Helen Dardis owned it. Her sister had a massage place across the hall. I worked for Helen for about two years; and then, with the help of my family, I bought Marge’s Beauty Shop from Marge Czerwinski, on August 1, 1954, and opened the business in September. That was also in the Dowlin Block, on the fourth floor in 405. I inherited some of Marge’s customers, and I also got some of my own that were my customers when I worked for Helen.”
“In 1960, I moved out of my parents’ house and got my own place at the Dowlin, in Apartment 505, right above my shop. When my father died in 1965, I moved back with my mother. After my mother retired from the Greylock Mill, she went to hairdressing school, and then she worked with me for a while. In 1970, I moved back into the Dowlin Block, and had my business and my apartment at 405 to 408. I had four rooms and two apartments, two rooms for my business and two rooms for the shop.”
“In 2011, the owners were going to close the building for remodeling, but they let me move to the third floor, in 303 and 304. There were still a few people living on that floor. But a year later, everyone had to move out by October 1. I left the building on September 23, 2012. I had been there for 60 years, if you count the two years I worked for Helen Dardis.”
“All those years, I did shampoos and haircuts and permanents and color. I didn’t do all the extreme crazy stuff they do now, goofy hairdos and streaks and weird colors. My customers would come in looking pretty bad, and when they’d leave I’d say, ‘Here’s the mirror, is that an improvement?'”
“When I started, I charged $3.00 for a haircut, and a dollar for a shampoo. In my last few years, I charged $10 for a shampoo or a haircut, and $45.00 for a permanent. I didn’t go up higher, because I had a lot of customers who couldn’t afford any more than that. When I got older, I started cutting back. I didn’t push for new customers, so I ended up with all the older people. Most of them are gone now.”
“I never got married. I’m too independent. But my customers were my family. You wind up going to their parties and getting to know their children, and all that. I had a lady for a long time that would come down from Shaftsbury, Vermont. She had a wheelchair, and when we were finished, I’d close the shop for a few minutes and push her across the street to the parking lot.”
“Over the years, I had a lot of personal conversations with my customers. I got involved with their problems sometimes. I always gave them advice. It might have been bad, but I gave it anyway. And there was always lots of gossip. What do you think a beauty shop is for anyway? I had to keep a lot of secrets. Many of my customers brought me gifts at Christmas. I still have a few customers that come to my home to get their hair done. I never thought that the business would last that long. I loved it.”
This article is dedicated to the thousands of people that have lived and worked in the Dowlin Block over the past 111 years. May there be many more to follow.