by Pete Mazzaccaro
Last year was not a terribly good year for area barbers. Two longtime barbers – Angelo DiPinto and Frank Salemno – the last two in Chestnut Hill, both died. Mt Airy’s Don Murphy, another barber with a long tradition of cutting hair in the city, also died leaving few options left for Northwest Philadelphia neighborhoods.
In nearby Erdenheim, however, the barber tradition is getting a new shot of life with the transition of the neighborhood’s barber shop to a 36-year-old barber from the Northeast who purchased the shop in February.
That barber is Joe Quinn, a Philadelphia Barber School grad who had been plying his trade in Mayfair for the last 11 years. He had been looking to open his own shop and got a lead from a friend’s father who met a man in Atlantic City looking to sell his shop.
That man was Joe Ruzzi, a 73-year-old barber who had been cutting hair at his shop at 615 Bethlehem Pike since buying the store from another barber in 1973.
“When you’re a barber, you always keep an eye out for an opportunity,” Quinn said. “ I wanted a shop that had already been a shop and had never been closed. Joe’s been here so long, even people who don’t come here know it’s a barbershop. It’s much easier to start out that way.”
Ruzzi, who said he’s very happy with how things have worked out, is working for Quinn. He’s taken the shop’s second chair and works Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
“I gotta sell some day and figured I want to give a young person a break,” Ruzzi said of why he decided to sell. “There are no jobs around. Every young person has a dream to have their own place. I knew when I finished my apprenticeship I wanted the same thing.”
Since opening in February, Quinn said he’s been really happy with business. It’s gone much smoother than he anticipated.
“Not being from this area, it might have been harder for me,” Quinn said. “It was nerve wracking – one of the biggest things I had to get over before I made the decision to come here. But I’ve been seeing a good number of my customers. All of Joe’s customers are great. It’s going much better than I thought it would be.”
Quinn currently lives in Willow Grove. He moved there two years ago with his wife and their two young daughters. He said he realizes that being young and a barber isn’t common. With many barber schools having closed and younger people opting for cosmetology school to become hairdressers, he’s a bit of a living anachronism.
Barbers have to complete 1,250 hours of instruction – a full-time course load that Quinn said takes about a year. After passing a state board exam, they can open a barber shop. You have to be a barber to call your shop a barber shop. And only barbers are allowed to use a straight razor on a customer.
“At the last shop I worked at, we were all in our 30s,” he said. “You won’t find that any more. There just aren’t a lot of young barbers out there. It’s not a trade many people go into.”
Quinn said he fell into the profession by accident. His mother purchased a clipper set for his father and he started giving himself haircuts with it. Soon, his friends wanted him to do the same for them. When he graduated from high school, he wasn’t interested in attending college. So, at the urging of his mother, he enrolled in barber school that year.
“My mom said, ‘You’re going to barber school – you’re not sitting around here doing nothing,’” Quinn said. “I’m glad she did. It’s been good to me.”
Joe’s Barber Shop is at 615 Bethlehem Pike and is open Tuesdays through Fridays, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Saturdays, from 9 a.m.to 3 p.m. Walk-ins are welcome.