Despite changing trends and encroaching gentrification, these old-school haircut hang-outs have managed to survive for several decades. We learn the secrets to their success.
Every established neighbourhood from Parkdale to Rosedale has one: the old-school hair-dressing salon that was in business back when your mom was still in pig-tails. You know them by the sun-bleached posters of vintage hairstyles displayed in the window; by the enormous hair dryers that look like space-age torture devices; by the discounts offered on perms. (Or the fact that they still offer perms). How the heck do these quaint throwbacks, independent and mostly run by women also raising families, keep the lights on year after year? We visited a random handful—and yes, we know we missed a million others—for clues. One thing we learned definitively: If you ever have an hour to kill and want to hear a fabulous true story told by someone who’s been amassing them for decades, go get yourself a trim.
Place: Powder Puff Unisex Beauty Salon, 680 Pape Ave. (#DAN)
Established: Owner Rita Haitas took over the business in 1976 at age 23 after emigrating from Greece; she bought the building for $85,000 two years later. But she reckons the site has been operating as a salon for 60 of its 100-plus years.
Specialty: “Anything that has to do with hair, we do it,” the gregarious proprietor enthuses.
Clientele: Haitas admits many have died over the years, though she cites one old dear, pushing 90, who remains a patron 50 years on. Going unisex in the 1980s opened things up, “but I have done wedding parties across generations. Mothers and then their daughters years later. I have a beautiful clientele,” she says.
Frozen in Time: The original sign out front is positively jaw-dropping in its vintage-ness and must never, ever be taken down.
Secret of its Success: Haitas chalks it up to hard work and a sense of humour—“plus, I am always looking 20 years ahead”—but even a cursory visit will tell you Haitas’ warmth and bubbly personality is what keeps them coming back. “I am a people person,” she allows. Indeed.
Place: New Hair Salon, 154 The Esplanade (#SLM)
Established: Current owner Bill Cheung bought the business in 2009 when the previous owner—who had been running the salon for some 30-plus years—shuffled off to the big shampoo sink in the sky.
Specialty: Fast, efficient, unfussy haircuts, and seniors-friendly roller sets delivered with a gentle touch.
Clientele: Regular Marlene Groenewegen—getting a cut when we visited—lives upstairs in the David B. Archer Co-op. Another client lives at the nearby Performing Arts Lodge for retired and disabled performers; Cheung says loads of patrons are drawn from the PAL complex. They complement a decidedly neighbourhood mix pulled from the surrounding co-ops stretching from Jarvis to Parliament—some 800 souls in total, estimates Cheung.
Frozen in Time: A woman’s cut is $20 (cash only), while a wash-and-set is $16. But the various televisions and computers remind us the 21st-century has arrived.
Secret of its Success: “Bill takes his time and doesn’t push a lot of unnecessary services on his clients,” Groenewegen offers, adding that Cheung talked her out of colouring her mostly grey hair. “Plus, he doesn’t charge a lot, he’s very sweet, and he always asks you what sort of music you’d like to hear.” Cheung also offers service in English, Cantonese, and Mandarin.
Place: Paisley Beauty Salon, 422½ Roncesvalles Ave. (#RON)
Established: 1960. German-born owner/operator Rotraut Wilma Noble bought the place when it became available; she’d been operating another Paisley salon a few doors down and it’s been “happily ever after” since.
Specialty: “She does my hair the way I like it, but I regard her as a friend,” says client Angela (“just Angela”). “We talk about books, travel… plus we both like classical music.” One suspects Montana—the nine-year-old gentle-giant Bernese Mountain Dog and shop “greeting committee”—is also a pretty strong draw.
Clientele: Longtime neighbourhood residents, mostly. Noble is the salon’s only staff member (“the others have since retired”) but she reckons she sees about 150 people regularly. “I hope they don’t all come at once!”
Frozen in Time: The spotlessly tidy shop looks retro but modernity encroaches: A poster fetes Noble’s 20 years of volunteer work with Casey House and a map on the wall foreshadows a Nepalese holiday planned for this spring.
Secret of its Success: “Hard work, dedication, conscientiousness,” says Noble. “Today, they call themselves ‘stylists,’ but I’m still just a hairdresser.”
Place: Georgia’s Beauty Salon, 1360 Queen St E. (#LES)
Established: Owner/operator Georgia Koukodimos figures she’s spent 30 years at her current location, which builds on the original business she developed at Queen and Logan in 1968 after moving here from Greece.
Specialty: “Everything to do with hair, but not nails or skin,” she says.
Clientele: “It’s getting smaller, and older—like me!”
Frozen in Time: “She has those space age hair-dryer chairs that look like they were built by NASA,” howls Teddy Fury, legendary bartender at the Horseshoe, who has admired Georgia’s shop in his east-end neighbourhood for eons and recommended its inclusion on our list. Hey, when your favourite bartender wants something…
Secret of its Success: “Don’t speak English too good,” Koukodimos laughs, “If you do, forget about it!”
What’s your favourite old-school salon in the city? Let us know in the comments section below.