They argued sports and politics, and traded insults daily, but the crew that met each morning at the Wall Street Barber Shop in Red Bank assembled there for the final time Saturday.
“They’ve come in every day for 30 years. They start at 8:30 a.m. and at 11 a.m. they start moseying out or I kick them out,” quipped John Abbatemarco, who closed his barber shop Saturday after 51 years, just two days ahead of its demolition to make way for a new office building.
“Fishing, hunting, baseball, football. Everybody knows everything but nobody knows nothing,” observed Abbatemarco. “They would stop here before work but they’re all retired now.”
Abbatemarco, 68, will move to 120 Fair Haven Road where he will share space in Men’s Hair, Women’s Fare, Fair Haven, a beauty salon that is expanding to include barber service. He hopes to have his chair set up by July 8.
A lifelong Red Bank resident, Abbatemarco, 68, started working at Frank Marascio’s barber shop as an 11-year-old. He shined shoes for customers and picked up haircutting while he was hanging around.
“They didn’t mind me learning on them,” he said of his first customers. “They had an expert who could straighten it out if I made a mess.”
By age 17, he’d earned his barber’s license and was cutting hair for 25 cents and giving shaves with a straight razor for 15 cents.
When Marascio was ready to retire, Abbatemarco bought the business in 1970. Over 57 years, Abbatemarco said he’s cut most every style in men’s hair from short to long, from flat tops to mohawks.
“I’ve seen short and long styles, whatever. Styling for long hair came in around 1969, and that was a big change,” he recalled. “I lost a lot of business because they went to ladies’ salons. It took about four to five years, but we all got it back.”
For 35 years, Abbatemarco has maintained the flat top, still favored by Bill Van Lenten of Ocean Township.
“I get a crewcut, and I’ve got news for you; I tried many places, and they just can’t cut it. John’s got the right touch,” said Van Lenten.
“A haircut when he started coming to me cost about $3,” said Abbatemarco.
It’s more than the current $10 cost of a haircut that has kept the customers coming for decades, Abbatemarco acknowledged.
“They like the way I cut hair. If you’re coming back for 30 years, you’ve got to like something,” he said.
“It’s kind of like family. You hear about everything,” he continued. “I just listen; I don’t talk. I try to give advice, but they don’t listen.”
Abbatemarco’s services often spanned generations.
“I have a gang of families I cut hair for, including four generations of Bill Kelly’s family,” he said. “It’s a family shop; it really is.”
With the clock running out for his shop, Abbatemarco benefited from the current vogue for vintage furnishings by selling some store fixtures a few days before closing. He sold the shop’s 1930s barber chairs to an antiques dealer and even had a taker for the front door before the wreckers got to it.
“A guy fell in love with the stickers, he was practically salivating when he saw them,” Abbatemarco said of the old fashioned barber pole decal that had been affixed to the glass door decades ago.
The razing also forced out Abbatemarco’s mother, Mary, who has lived next door to the shop for 73 years. She moved to South Jersey to stay with a daughter temporarily and hopes to be back in Red Bank if space becomes available at the senior complex across the street.
Abbatemarco offered to buy his building, but the property is part of the development of the former Schwartz auto dealership. “I tried to stay in Red Bank,” he said, “but I couldn’t find a spot, and the rents are too high.”
“You’re losing tradition when you lose another shop like mine,” Abbatemarco continued. “It’s more than losing a shop. Yes, it is. You’re losing a barber shop, not a stylist. People like myself and Marascio’s, Rudy’s and Art’s, once they close, you lose a tradition, and it doesn’t come back because they don’t teach this anymore.”
Except for those who walked to his shop, he expects customers to follow him to Fair Haven.
“Out of 100, I’ll get 90,” he predicted. “I think the morning crew will follow, but they won’t stay as long.”
“Would I change anything? Hell, no,” exclaimed Abbatemarco of his 51 years as a barber.
“The people have been the best part. They’re good customers. It’s not the same routine every day. Everybody’s hair is different. It’s not an assembly line.”
The down side has been the long hours. When he became a barber, shop hours were 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and stretched to 10 p.m. on Friday evenings. It wasn’t until 40 years ago that he began closing on Wednesdays, giving him a day off each week, he said.
“It’s the end of an era, closing this shop. And I’m happy, and I’m sad,” he explained. “I’m going to work for somebody and that makes things a lot easier for me. No more headaches.
“But I’m sad because I made a lot of good friends. I had customers come from as far as Oakhurst, and I’ve got a guy who, for 30 years, comes all the way from Point Pleasant. You’ve got to be doing something right,” he said.
There were hard times, too, when Abbatemarco was there for his customers. “Everybody has them,” he observed. “People get sick; they have bills and can’t work. I took care of people who didn’t have the money. I cut their hair and never charged them.”
Those kindnesses were remembered when Abbatemarco fell seriously ill last year. His shop was closed for 14 weeks while he struggled to recover.
“I lost 14 weeks and guys waited,” he said. “They would come by and ask my mother, â018When is he coming back?’ I’ve got a good clientele. That’s why I didn’t just put a lock on the door.
“You’ve got to treat them well. You see, the guys that have been here 30, 40 years, a lot of them waited,” he said. “They wouldn’t go anyplace else for a haircut.”