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For over 65 years, Astor Place Hairstylists has been a neighborhood barber, serving locals and customers from all the five boroughs, and celebrities from around the world. Founded in 1947, you can get a cut, a perm, color treatment, a shave, mohawk, or fauxhawk at the same place Susan Sarandon, Sinbad and one Bill DeBlasio go. You can even sit for the “Stephen Colbert” style. Astor Place Hairstylists are our September Business of the Month.
How does a small business survive for over 6 decades? Third generation proprietor John Vezza says you have to work double the hours for three-quarters of the pay. His grandfather started a place for a cut and a shave after studying at one of the many such places on the Bowery during the Depression. His father and uncle assumed ownership in 1965. During some time off from Fordham University, John came to help, and never left.
The family was ready to close the business in the 70’s, when longer, less kempt hairstyles became the norm. But today John says “Thank god” even long hair styles need shaping or styling. His team is adept at all the intricacies of contemporary hair shapes and designs, right down to eyebrow shaping. Each of his staff of over 50 employees has their specialty. When newcomers walk in and explain what they want, the keen front counter staff know immediately who to send them to. Only the satin-smocked Don Fiffi requires a month and half lead time to get an appointment (but maybe that was just for me). The many regulars develop their own relationships with their favorite stylist.
In the 1980’s, Astor Place Hairstylists went unisex. Back then they bought cases of permanent solution because people wanted curlier hair. Today, all kinds of hair straightening is en vogue. No hair style will shock John; he’s seen half head cuts, shaved down the middle styles, and every color there is. The only hair style they never did was when someone asked for a swastika.
Yet another immigrant success story, John’s grandfather Enriquo Sr. came here in 1921 from Castelforte, Italy, stowed away in a ship. The dozens of employees at Astor Place speak Spanish, French, German, Polish, English, Russian, and Greek.
Back in the day, John’s his father Enriquo Jr. would take polaroids of the actual customers and hairstyles. Many still adorn the walls of this below-street-level institution. Nowadays people show up with myriad pictures on their smart devices of how they want to look.
Many celebrities also come to this unpretentious location in the NoHo Historic District. According to John, Sugar Ray Leonard signed autographs for hours. Bruce Willis is super nice and is a huge tipper. No one makes a fuss no matter who walks in, but when actress Dana Gurira stopped by, John just had to have a picture with her — his niece is a big fan of “The Walking Dead” series. Family is important.
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