It’s a place that dates back to medieval times, a place where a man could not only get a haircut and a shave but also have a tooth removed or a bit of surgery performed.
It’s marked by a red, white, and blue pole outside. At one time, those colors signaled to a customer what services were provided inside: the red for arterial blood associated with surgery, the blue for venous blood that comes with a tooth extraction, and white for the bandages that follow.
It’s also a place where a man can go to socialize with his fellow man, discuss the issues of the day; a fraternal bastion where women are uninvited but may come if brave enough. And while Hot Towel Barbers, now celebrating its sixth year as the village’s only barbershop, does cut women’s hair, it remains a gathering place for men looking for a close shave and a quality haircut.
Master barber Randy Romeo opened the shop six years ago, because, he said, “I did research on the area and saw that at that time there was only one other barber and about five hair salons that catered to women but also cut men’s hair.”
There are now about ten hair salons in the area, but for a man looking for someone skilled in the tonsorial arts, there is but one barbershop in the village. The other barber shop closed several years ago when the owner retired.
And it’s that barbershop and its owner who will be the subject of a documentary by Saugerties documentary filmmaker David Becker, which will begin filming at the Partition Street shop this Saturday. The documentary, which will feature a number of Romeo’s customers talking about their barbershop experiences from childhood up to the present, will also feature an educational element about what a barbershop was, and what it has become today, as well as the importance of a shop in providing “the service of male grooming.”
“I am working with Randy and Hot Towel Barbers to create a short documentary that highlights their ‘old school’ approach,” explained Becker. “I am interviewing Randy, his apprentices, and customers to get an in-depth look at what makes Hot Towel Barbers so unique and to explore their impact on the communities they serve. We are also looking at the long history and tradition of barber shops in American culture, which Randy and Hot Towel Barbers carry on with their own modern twist.”
The 41-year-old Romeo began cutting hair when he was in high school. “I loved taking things apart and putting them back together,” he said. And that led him to his mother’s hair clippers, which she used to cut the family’s hair.
Not liking the haircuts he got at the hands of his mom or at unisex salons at the malls, Romeo began to experiment cutting his own hair. In no time, he became good enough that his friends in high school in Highland where he grew up began to ask him to cut their hair too.
“We’d sneak out of class, go to my house and I’d cut their hair,” Romeo explained. “It was a great way to make some money.”
After working in the food industry after high school, most notably for Frank Guido in Kingston, Romeo decided cutting hair was his first love and what he wanted to do as a career.
He chose Saugerties for his first shop; he now has one in Highland, because of Woodstock ’94. “ I came up on the bus, and walked around Saugerties and thought it was a cool little town,” he said.
Remembering that “cool little town” when looking for a place to site his first shop, and finding an open store front at 72 Partition St., he knew he had found a home.
A year and a half later, he opened a shop in his hometown at 600 Route 299 in the Heritage Plaza in Highland, and he is in the process of opening a third shop at 33 Broadway in downtown Kingston.
The Kingston shop was supposed to open on April 3, but a motorist backed her car though the front window of the place and repairs on the shop are now taking place. Because he doesn’t own the building, Romeo said he is unsure when the place will open.
But when it does, it will feature a pool table in the front. “I want men to be able to come in and relax while they are waiting to have their hair cut,” said Romeo, whose shops are reminiscent of those from the late-nineteenth century.