Shear Greatness at Astor Place

When it opened 66 years ago, five barbers worked at Astor Place Hairstylists. Three generations and a basement move later, the shop boasts a staff of 75 barbers and stylists (Henry Miller)

Enrico Vezza opened Astor Place Hairstylists in 1947 with a motto: no matter a customer’s style, language or economic background, everyone needs a haircut.

Three generations later, what started as the East Village’s five-barber favorite now houses a fleet of 75 hairstylists. Now with help from the founder’s son, Enrico Jr., and grandsons Paul, 54, and John, 50, the shop’s mission remains the same.

While many places charge almost $100 for their business, the shop, which is located in the basement of 2 Astor Pl., offers a shave and a haircut for $15. The low price attracts varied clientele—some famous. Among Astor Place’s celebrity customers are pseudo-newsman Stephen Colbert, New York mayoral candidate Bill DeBlasio, actor Alec Baldwin and actress Hilary Swank. But John Vezza hopes to make his family business as inclusive as possible.

“Young, old, blue-collar, hedge fund—people get a total mix here,” Vezza said. “That’s what people come for.”

The shop’s all-encompassing attitude offers room for customers to show their personalities. Some of them dress in T-shirts and sit stoically while others don suits and give their stylists a firm clap of a handshake.

As for the stylists, each one has its own station featuring a chair and counter. Each stylist also has its own mirror, which is usually personally decorated with their names, faded magazine clippings and, in many cases, photographs of clients.

The shop permeates with different languages. Whether its English, Russian, Italian or German, people at Astor Place love to talk. Many stylists take pride in the conversations they have.

Valentino Gogu, a stylist who came to New York from Bucharest, Romania, in 1984, considered himself, in some ways, a therapist.

“We talk sports, politics, work, love, everything,” Gogu said in a thick accent.

But for Gogu, chit-chat is just one part of his job. What really keeps customers returning, he believes, is the haircut.

“They come back because I’m good,” he said. Then he laughed and turned to his client, Eric Daigle, asking him, “I’m good, right?”

When customers finish their haircuts, they walk to the register. That’s where Frank Ribecca counts change, punches holes into receipts and says goodbye to the patrons. Business hasn’t changed much for Ribecca, 33, since he started working at Astor Place Hairstylists in 1997. He does note, however, that many of his co-workers have become wealthy through their work.

“People have worked here, starting with nothing and now have two, three houses,” Ribecca said. “One guy ran off to Vegas, bought a mansion and never left.”

Despite only advertising by the customers’ word of mouth, or perhaps because of it, Enrico Vezza’s simple motto “a shave and a haircut for all” remains. And after all the haircuts done here throughout the years, nobody has snipped the shop’s local charm.