Freewheeling Dougie Freeman's Provincetown Salon to Close After 39 Years
After almost 40 years in business, a Provincetown salon that’s been a splashy presence on Commercial Street is saying goodbye.
Casual visitors may not be familiar with the West End Salon, but for some folks, this place, with gregarious Dougie Freeman at the helm, is an institution — for better or for worse.
“My neighbors in the West End have been fabulous to me,” he said, glancing out the window from his styling chair, “except the ones that hate me.”
Dougie still cuts hair, and he’s known for his style even when he’s not behind the chair.
“I love doing different shtick,” he said. “You know, things like the bubble machine, dancing for discounts, kissing booth.”
One time, he installed a stripper pole.
“For every minute you danced, you got a dollar off your bill. … And the neighbors got mad, because they didn't pay $780,000 to watch people dance on a stripper pole.”
The town told him to stop, which he did — but the notoriety helped land him a spot on a reality television show, Tabatha's Salon Takeover.
Now, at 68 years old, Dougie says it’s time for a change. He’s putting the West End Salon and its two condo units on Commercial Street up for sale.
“My intent is to take my staff and walk down the street and join another salon,” he said.
But he doesn’t plan to stop working. He said if he has to, he’ll open a smaller salon.
No one closes a business after 39 years without taking stock of how far they’ve come. Passers-by may know Dougie as the guy who gave out coupons in the street, but they probably don’t know where he comes from — and not Newton, although that is where he grew up.
In the late 1960s, he was living a suburban teenage life — attending an experimental public high school, making pottery, and selling it in a gallery. Then, life turned upside down when his father found him with a boyfriend.
“My father got me on the floor, punched me in the face many times, broke my nose,” he said. “My father said, ‘Get out of this house,’ so I did it.”
He rented a room for 15 dollars a week and went to the emergency room for his nose. He didn’t go home for 25 years.
“I am a throwaway, because that's what we were called,” he said. “You had runaways, and then you had throwaways, you know, and people say to me, ‘Would you have run away?’ What? I would run away from that big house and all that? You kidding?”
Dougie worked at a club for a while. And then an acquaintance got him a job as a shampooer in a fancy salon in Brookline.
“Where all the millionaires’ wives went,” he said.
He washed hair 10 hours a day and made good money.
“I got to learn about Louis Vuitton and Chanel and diamonds and false eyelashes and affairs and Valium and Seconal and diet pills ... and swimming pools and cabanas,” he said. “I got to learn all that, boy. And boy, that was a tonic for me.”
But that tonic was no longer enough when his boyfriend died unexpectedly. He moved to Provincetown for a fresh start.
He did nails in the back of a jewelry store and eventually got a job in a salon. He opened his own shop in 1982.
One of his employees, Danny, is about the same age Dougie was when he came to Provincetown.
He introduced himself by saying, “I'm Daniel James McLaughlin, and down here they call me Danny Boy Sparkles.”
Danny works the front desk. What comes to his mind about the hairdresser with the bubble machine isn’t his wildness — it’s his kindness.
“I think about just how much he has helped other people and, like, how he's even just taken me in, like I was one of his own kids ... and showed me the way, and just made sure that I was going to be alright,” he said.
As the days of the West End Salon come to a close, Dougie Freeman says his most important appointments will be with the people he cares about, including his partner of 30 years.
And if there’s one thing he’s learned from helping people feel good when they look in the mirror, it’s this: “Everyone has value. Every. Body. Has. Value,” he said, emphasizing his words. “I don't care if you have an IQ of 60 or 160, you have value in my eye.”