In his 52 years working as a barber, Peter Gatas has cut a lot of hair.
He’s not sure how many haircuts he’s given exactly. There’s just been so many.
“I can’t even count them,” Pete said. “It was very high, you know?”
The longtime owner of Pete’s Barber Shop on Oliver Street in North Tonawanda admits that he’s not cutting as much hair as he would like these days.
Barbers like him are not exactly the rage in a time when a lot of people are OK with having their hair styled at corporate-owned shops in malls or plazas.
While much has changed in the world in general and in the haircutting business in particular since Pete started cutting hair professionally back in the 1960s, he says two things have not diminished — his skills and his pride in his work.
He’ll put his flair for giving customers just the right look and style up against anybody — barbers like him and hairstylists operating out of newer salons alike.
“I do the job from the heart. There’s no style that’s going to be past me,” he said.
Pete has an interesting past.
His family came from Lebanon and he learned quickly as a young man that it was necessary to work hard if you wanted to make a living for yourself in America.
He spent his summers cutting grass, his winters shoveling snow and, in between, he collected items of value like scrap metal to pick up a few extra bucks. He also held a few factory jobs locally, including one in North Tonawanda where he made wooden and metal sleighs.
When he finally decided to pursue a career as a barber, Pete will tell you a brush with divine intervention helped him make up his mind for good.
A devout Catholic, he believes St. Joseph himself visited him several times in a series of dreams, at a couple of points physically nudging him to wake up and think about his future. At one point, he got up and saw his father’s statue of St. Joseph. When St. Joseph spoke to him in his dream, Pete knew just exactly what he needed to do.
“He said ‘I’m here because you pray for St. Joseph. You go ahead and do what you have on your mind. I am here with you and I will be with you,’ “ Pete said.
With that, Pete enrolled in a barber school on Zimmerman Street and served an apprenticeship for roughly a year and a half. He started out at No. 84 in his class before steadily working himself up to No. 3 and, finally, to No. 1.
After a stint working at another barber shop, Gatas struck out on his own, opening “Pete’s” on Oliver Street on Jan. 2, 1966.
He has enjoyed a healthy customer base and a lot of success throughout the years. His work led him to be named “Barber of the Year” by the now-defunct Tonawanda News back in 2000.
While Pete still has his share of regulars, he’d like to see more new faces and, um, heads.
His message today is the same as it has been for decades: You can get a haircut at a lot of places, but you won’t get what he offers — an affordable price, a personal experience and a stylish look from a veteran of the barber trade.
“Try me and you’ll find out,” Pete said. “You’ve got nothing to lose. You won’t be sorry because I know what I’m doing.”
Like the sign on his business card and on the front his barber shop says: “If you want to look neat, you’ve got to see Pete.”
Pretty much says it all right there.
Pete’s Barber Shop is located at 394 Oliver St. Pete the Barber accepts walk-in customers on Mondays, Wednesday, Thursdays and Fridays. He also offers limited hours on Saturdays. To schedule a cut, give him a call at 694-6619.
You could go to some place at a shopping plaza where you don’t know the person cutting your hair, but why would you when Pete’s just the best?
Contact Regional News Director Mark Scheer at 282-2311, ext. 2250.