It was an era when men would welcome an hour-long refuge from the world by smoking cigarettes, yakking politics or viewing the men's glossies, all while waiting their turn for the barber chair, remembers Main Line Hair Salon owner John Melchiorre, 62, of the years his dad owned a barbershop in Philadelphia.
“My father used to stand on milk crates to cut hair,” Melchiorre says, chuckling. “It was a very different time.”
Indeed. Melchiorre’s father, a first-generation Italian in Philadelphia began cutting hair in 1914 in a neighborhood shop at 5th and Cambria streets.
When Melchiorre was 13, he started spending more time in his dad’s shop and learned how to cut hair. Growing up, his family lived in the Wissinoming section of Philadelphia. By 17, he had begun an apprenticeship.
Two years later, in 1969, and about a mile from where his salon is today, he opened his own shop in the Main Line Shopping Center with 13 associates, who gave wash-and-sets with holding gels, a throwback to a time when women had standing appointments.
Melchiorre still lives in Mount Laurel with his family, where he settled in 1978.
He stayed in the mall where Penn Fruit was the chief supermarket, where the five-and-dime store W.T. Grant’s sold things called sundries, and where parents bought their kids their first-day-of-school shoes at Shoe Town.
In 2000, an opportunity arose to buy the 200-year-old building that houses his salon, and which sits on the roundabout at Route 130 North and Highland Avenue. After 13 months of remodeling, he opened his family friendly salon, which is now next to the tall iron fence that wraps around the Siena condominiums. Melchiorre says the building was previously owned for many years by a local family, and it used to be a stagecoach stop.
“People would stop here when they would make the long ride from New York City to Philadelphia.”
These days, Melchiorre is the sole male among a sanctuary of six female operators, who cut, curl and primp clients' heads Monday through Saturday.
On this afternoon, a young woman was having her hair lightened, sitting with foils (starting at $45) pointing out from the top of her scalp. Another lady had her hair set in tiny rollers. A male client, one of many, according to Melchiorre, had just received a trim. (Women's cuts start at $22, men's at $15.)
Time spent under dome-like dryers has been mostly replaced with the constant hum of hand-held dryers.
Smooth, sleek hair is pulled straight with metallic flat irons.
“I can also remember when everyone wanted a perm,” says Melchiorre, whose customers make appointments, but his salon also services daily walk-ins. “We would do about 1,000 perms a year. That stopped about seven years ago. Maybe, we do a couple a month now.”
Just like the weather, hairstyles are unpredictable: About five years ago everyone wanted short hair, says Melchiorre.
“Now, the style is longer,” says Melchiorre. “But after about five or six months, they’ll get tired of it.”