GLOVERSVILLE - Vincent "Vinnie" Mascardi, now 69, was just a teenager growing up in Gloversville in the 1960s when he discovered his lifelong profession.
His next-door neighbor needed a haircut, and Vinnie volunteered.
"I went over there one day and they were trying to give him a haircut and I says 'let me try it.' He wanted a flat-top haircut and I gave a pretty good one. They said I was a natural at it and I said 'maybe I'll go to school for it.' And that's exactly what I did," Mascardi said.
Vincent Mascardi stands near his original barber chair at his shop in Gloversville on Thursday.
The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
That was in 1963, the year Mascardi graduated from high school and enrolled in the Royal Barber Beauty School in Schenectady.
"The taught me how to shave, facials, haircuts and facial massages,"?he said. "The schooling took two years, six months of classes and a year and a half apprenticeship. To pass the state test you had to perform a shave and a haircut."?
Mascardi did his apprenticeship at the Siena Barber Shop in Latham, mostly cutting college kids hair and state troopers coming out of the Latham barracks.
"The younger guys wanted the flat tops, and brush cuts and Princeton haircuts and square backs, stuff like that,"?he said.
When he was approved for his barber license, Mascardi was ready to begin his career as a barber, but first he had to serve in the Vietnam War.
But even while serving in a war zone Mascardi still had the chance to practice his barber skills.
"I would cut the hair of a few of the lieutenants and sometimes when a VIP was coming in, like a congressman or something -and they needed a haircut - I'd give them a haircut," he said.
When Mascardi got back to the U.S., he was able to take unemployment insurance after his discharge from the military, so he took the summer off. He was looking for his next opportunity, when opportunity found him. He was driving down the street one day when an older barber operating on West State Avenue, a man who had cut Mascardi's hair when he was a kid, saw him and asked him to take over his business.
"I was stopped at a [traffic] light and he comes out of his shop and he's yelling 'Vinnie, Vinnie' I was surprised, how'd he know it was me??He wanted me to cut hair with him, so I said OK. I tried it out and I liked it. He wanted me to buy his business, but after just getting out of the service I?didn't have no money, so I rented it," he said.
After working as a barber on West State Avenue for five years Mascardi saw an opportunity to buy property at 112 W. 8th Ave. in Gloversville. The property had been seized by the city and had a two-story home on it. Mascardi contacted the Gloversville city attorney about buying it.
"He said make the city an offer, so I?offered them $500 and I got the property. I tore the building down, which cost me $1,000. I built a 20x24 foot building on it, at night and during my day off. I had a lot of help from my friends, we put a couple of cement blocks in," Mascardi said. "To buy the barber chair, and the waiting chairs, and the mirrors and air conditioner, all of that cost about $2,000 in 1970."
To start his business, Mascardi used a combination of his savings and a $5,000 bank loan he got from the Federal Savings and Loan. In today's dollars that would be about $30,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator.
Mascardi said when he first began his business there were people who said all of the barbers would be put out of business by the long-hair trend popularized by the Beatles, but that never proved true. He said his business survived all of the hair trends. He said he remembers the first time he gave a Mohawk haircut, sometime in the 1980s.
"I said 'oh my gosh.' I still would get a few of those even recently from time to time, kids going back to school that want the Mohawk haircut," he said.
Another thing that changed over the years was fewer and fewer men came to Mascardi to get their beard's shaved.
"We had a lot of shaves when I started, but we don't have any now,"?he said. "I?think my last shave was maybe 10 years ago. I think after the safety razors, the throw-aways, and the electric razors pretty much made the shave business go away."?
One of the last trends Mascardi saw was young men wanting "lightning bolts" carved into the size of their heads.
"That was one of the new fads right now," Mascardi said.
One of Mascardi's longtime customers was Gloversville resident Jerry Wagner, who first went to Vince's Barber Shop when he was a kid and when he grew up he took his own sons there for their first haircut.
"His barber shop was right across the street from where I grew up. It was a very friendly atmosphere. He was kind of a man's man, he had the deer mounts on the wall and he was an avid fisherman and hunter. He was the kind of guy who would give you advice and he was a straight shooter, he'd give it to you good, bad or ugly," Wagner said. "If he'd never cut your hair the way you wanted it, he'd figure it out. Nobody was ever turned away at Vinnie's barber shop."
Mascardi said he recently decided to retire after he had his left lung removed due to lung cancer. He said he wanted to stop working because of his health, but he will miss the profession and his customers.
"I really enjoyed it, it was nice talking to the guys, listening to the fishing stories and the hunting stories. It was really good," he said.
Mascardi said he advises anyone who wants to operate a barber shop to try to do so in a "high-traffic" area, which he thinks was part of his success in the early days of his business when there were more people employed in Gloversville in local industries like the leather industry.
"You need a lot of people coming and going," he said.