By Dan Weaver
The 1966-67 Amsterdam City Directory listed 34 barbers in the City of Amsterdam. When the 1973-74 directory was published, only six years later, there were only 20. Why so many barbers went out of business between 1966 and 1973 is easy to explain—long hair and beards. A 1973 Amsterdam Recorder article stated that the number of barbers dropped by 2,700 statewide from December 1970 to December 1972, and there was a net loss of 1,357 barber shops during that period.
An official from an Albany barber’s local said that men used to get 26 haircuts a year but in 1973 were only averaging six a year. The typical barber was only earning $75 a week and many were holding down two jobs. In order to compensate for lost revenue, barbers increased their prices from $2.50 to $3 for a haircut. In the early ’70s beauticians were not licensed to cut men’s hair. When the state held hearings to consider allowing them to cut men’s hair, barbers opposed the change because they felt it would hurt their business even more.
When I went to Pete Pappalardo for my first haircut in Sidney Center, N.Y., the price was $1. When I first came to Amsterdam in 1977, the price was $3.00. The first barber shop I utilized was the three chair Ideal Barbershop at 47 Market Street manned by Joe, Joe and Barney. After they closed, I went to Dan Pirfo on Shuler Street and then Art Ianuzzi at 123 Market Street.
By then my sons were going with me. From the sidewalk we had to descend a few stairs into Art’s basement shop. On the wall was his Purple Heart medal. Art died in 2012. According to his obituary, Art was “Born in Laviano, Province of Salerno, Italy on August 28, 1923, a son of the late Vincent and Josephine Stablia Iannuzzi. He attended school in Italy and graduated from high school there. He came to the United States in 1938. Art proudly served in the U.S. Army during World War II in the 41st Armored Division serving in Ardennes, Central Europe, Normandy, Northern France and Rhineland.”
The last barber I went to was Joe Speranza on the corner of James and Edward Streets. Joe often had musical instruments for sale in his window. He was proud of his son Vito, a trumpeter in the West Point Jazz Knights, a premiere 18-piece military jazz band that started in 1972 and is not easy to get into. All the band members are sergeants and military careerists. Joe liked to talk to me about Vito, his other children and his wife while cutting my hair. Joe died in 2007.
There used to be so many barbers in Amsterdam they formed the Amsterdam Barbers Association. In 1931, 38 barbers attended an association banquet at Orsini’s Restaurant on the corner of East Main and Liberty Streets. In Tony Pacelli’s book, Past and Present, he has a photo of a barbers’ banquet at Orsini’s in 1949. Judge Felix Aulisi was the evening’s speaker.
Amsterdam barbers could also join Local 714 of the Barbers Union. In 1955 the local sponsored Operation Haircut, providing Christmas gifts and free haircuts for all the children at the Children’s Home and the Sisters of the Resurrection Home. In 1958, the local sponsored Operation Spruce-Up to get the same children ready for Easter. Children had the option of getting their free haircuts by Louis Petrillo at 26 Church Street or the Martuscello Brothers at 98 East Main Street that year. According to a Recorder article of March 26, 1958, Operation Spruce-Up had become an annual tradition.
The following barbers were still in business in 1973-74: Al’s Barber Shop 37 Arnold, Art’s 123 Market, Paul M. Carbone 369 Forest, Carmen’s 168 Guy Park, Nicholas C. Frantangelo 295 ½ E. Main, Dan Greco’s 290 Locust, Hamuda’s 3 Reid, Martuscello’s 41 Reid, Danny Martuscello’s 40 Grove, Nick’s 38 Schuyler, Park Hill Barber Shop 209 Grand, Pat’s 216 E. Main, Aniello Pirfo 131 Market, Ray’s 51 Bridge, Sanitary Barber Shop 26 Church, Speranza’s 54 James, Tony’s 227 Division and Vincent’s 136 Division.
Today there are many hair salons in Amsterdam but only a handful of barbershops that I know of, that is traditional barber shops where the barbers are primarily male and most of their clientele is male. I don’t go to any of them because I have been cutting my own hair, what little there is, since Joe Speranza passed away.
Dan Weaver is a resident of the town of Florida and owns a business in the city of Amsterdam.