NIAGARA DISCOVERIES: Barbers in Lockport in the mid 20th century

Sanitary Barber Shop at 151 West Avenue is another Lockport barber shop with a long history. Founded by Guido DiTullio 81 years ago, it is now operated by his grandson, Matt DiTullio. (Bruce Aikin / contributor)

The photo that accompanied last week’s installment of Niagara Discoveries showed Martin Grage and his son Albert in front of their barber shop at 28 Pine Street, Lockport, near the corner of Main, in the early 1900s. After moving across the street to the Raleigh Hotel, Albert Grage operated the shop until 1957 when he sold the business to Joe Esposito, who opened Joe’s Barber Shop at the Pine Street location. Esposito had his shop there until 1969 when the building was taken for urban renewal (an ad in the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal in August 1969 stated that the barber equipment must be sold by the end of the month). Joe’s Barber Shop then moved to the F & M Building and later to Heritage Square. Esposito died in 2013, after cutting hair for 57 years. He was just one of many barbers who were active in Lockport during the post-World War II years. 

In the 1947 city directory (the first one published after the war), there were 28 barbers operating in the city of Lockport. Half of them were either on Main Street or just a block or two off it. The others were located in residential areas in the North End, Lowertown and in the neighborhoods in the southern part of the city. One of the longest-operating barber shops in Lockport opened its doors shortly after the turn of the 20th century.

Joseph Colletti was born in Italy in 1881 and came to Lockport as a child. His family resided at 303 Market Street where he began his barber business, first out of his home, and then in a shop at 305 Market near Chapel Street. In 1926, Colletti purchased the former Vine Street School for the Italian Christian Church as their house of worship. Joseph died in 1935 and the business was continued by his son, Thomas, at the Market Street location.

In 1943, a fire destroyed 305-311 Market and Thomas Colletti built a new shop at the same address which he operated until 1972. When that building was taken down for urban renewal, he moved to 10 East Avenue in the Palace Theatre building. That shop closed in 1990 and Thomas passed away in 1994. The Colletti family had been in the barber business for nearly 90 years. 

Another long-time business which stretched from the beginning of the 20th century to nearly the end was the Lock Street Barber Shop at 18 Lock. Thomas Costello, who began cutting hair in the late 19th century on Buffalo Street, moved his shop to Lock Street in the 1920s. In 1936, he sold the business to Charles Palisano who changed the name to the Lock Street Barber Shop. His son James later took over the shop and operated it until 1980 when the building was torn down to make way for the new addition to the Dale Association.  In 1963, James Palisano surprised the staff at Lockport Motors when he came in to trade his year-old model for a new 1964 Ford Galaxie and paid the difference with $850 in silver dollars he had saved for four years.

Al’s Barber Shop was opened in 1957 by Albert Campisano in the Van Valkenburgh building at 39 Locust Street. As previously mentioned in this column, that building was destroyed by fire in May 1964. A week later, Campisano moved to a new shop at 111 Main Street near Market. Less than a week after that, an explosion of unknown origin damaged many buildings and caused a power outage along several blocks of Main Street, including Al’s Barber Shop. The businesses were able to reopen in a few days. In 1965, Al was appointed chairman of the Beard Contest, held in conjunction with the Centennial celebration of Lockport becoming a city. He also assisted with the establishment of a local chapter of the “Brothers of the Brush,” an organization that promoted the growing of beards. Al’s Barber Shop had to move again in 1972, this time due to urban renewal. Al’s was relocated to 395 Ontario Street and remained in business there until 1983 when it closed.

Three weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Leonello “Leo” DiPastena opened a barber shop at 396 West Avenue. A few years later, he moved to 373 West Avenue. In 1947, Leo’s Barber Shop relocated to the address it would occupy for the next 47 years: 289 Walnut St. DiPastena retired in 1993 after more than 50 years as a barber. He passed away in 2000.

In 1971, a debate arose among Lockport barbers as to the pros and cons of the new style of men wearing their hair long. In a February 3rd article in the Union-Sun & Journal, a reporter interviewed a number of Lockport barbers to get their opinion on the long hair craze.

Several of the longtime barbers expressed dismay, some stating that the trend had cut business in half or more. One pointed out that, “Between the boys in the service and those hippie kids,” his business was down by three quarters. Another complained that even older men who used to come in every two weeks were waiting longer between cuts. A few speculated they might close their shops.

On the flip side, some barbers, both new and veteran, welcomed the “long hairs” and adjusted their techniques to more styling than cutting. They felt they needed to adapt to stay in business. From the longevity of the barbers highlighted in this article, all of whom survived the crisis of 1971, it appears they accepted the changing styles and moved forward.

Ann Marie Linnabery is the assistant director of the History Center of Niagara.

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