Shave and a haircut — two bits.
People could have said it — or sung it — at Schenectady’s Wedgeway Barber Shop in 1912.
Prices have changed, but both services are still available at the men’s grooming station on Erie Boulevard. Longtime city barber Richard DiCristofaro is observing the shop’s 100th year in business this year and is also celebrating his 50th year in the barber profession.
Joe Vacca started the strap and scissors business in the Wedgeway building, which opened in 1912 and was once billed as the largest office building in the city. “More people pass in and out of this building than any other office building in the city,” read an advertisement in the 1912 Schenectady Directory. Elevator service and mail chutes were among the extras.
In the first part of the 1900s, DiCristofaro said, men would get haircuts every two weeks.
“If you went longer than that, you were considered a bum,” he said. “And facial shaves were a big item in those days.”
The Alcamasi Beauty and Barber Supply Co. purchased the barber shop from Vacca. Joe Cupo became the owner around 1920 and Wedgeway barber Patsy Gallo bought the business in 1936. “He worked here and ran it until 1972, when I bought it,” DiCristofaro said. “As he worked 10 years for the previous owner, I worked for him for 10 years.”
There have been boom times and quiet times at the shop on Erie, just a few steps away from State Street. When the General Electric and American Locomotive companies were packed during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, men were always visiting during their lunch hours. Among the more famous folks to sit in the high-backed Wedgeway swivel chairs were cowboy star Buck Jones, magician Harry Blackstone and lightweight boxer Billy “The Fargo Express” Petrolle.
Among DiCristofaro’s favorite customers were Ernst Alexanderson, the General Electric engineer who pioneered radio and television development, and Peter Hornsby, who received his first haircut at the Wedgeway in 1928 and still comes in for trims.
Beatles bring changes
DiCristofaro said barbers everywhere had tough times when the Beatles — and their long hairstyles — arrived in America in 1964. Younger and older people began growing their hair and sideburns longer; the trend continued into the mid-1970s, DiCristofaro said.
By then, hairstyling was in. “Barbers had to re-educate themselves, cut and blow-dry hair,” DiCristofaro said.
The cash register, sinks, mirrors and some window casings were in place when the shop opened. “It’s tradition,” DiCristofaro said. “I’ve wanted to keep the old traditions over the years.”
There have been more people around too, DiCristofaro said, thanks to new downtown businesses.
DiCristofaro, 73, lives with his wife, Lyn, in Rotterdam Junction. He’s still spending time with people at the Wedgeway — barbers Dawn Taylor, Heather Bynum and Mike Kosakowski. The crew will celebrate the anniversaries with friends and customers at a private party later this week.