Phoenicia Barbershop brings back old times

Fred Veitch cuts Mike Michta’s hair. (photos by Violet Snow)

Outside the door, the red, white, and blue stripes of the barber pole spin. Two barber chairs with orange upholstery await customers in front of the huge mirror, an antique gilt cash register taking center stage on the counter cluttered with scissors, combs, clippers, and other tools. On one wall is the Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post cover of a barber sitting in a chair, reading the paper, while a younger barber cuts his hair.

Those two men could be Fred and Joe Veitch, the father-and-son proprietors of the shop that opened on Phoenicia’s Main Street boardwalk in June, offering no-frills service — a ten-minute, $11 haircut, no reservations, with hanging around to shoot the shit optional but freely available. “We decided Phoenicia needed a barber shop,” says Joe. “The nearest one is in Hunter. Or else you have to go to Margaretville or Kingston. Besides, my father likes opening barber shops.”

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The Phoenicia area, it is true, has hair salons that are open to men, including Debra Jo’s Unisex Hair Styling right on Main Street, and Miss Kitty’s in Boiceville. How is a barber shop different? “We just do a simple man’s haircut,” explains Fred. “We don’t wash hair. At our shop on Long Island, we prided ourselves on service — a quick haircut before work, or some guys would hang around and bullshit, which is a great part of it. It’s like Mayberry RFD. They had Floyd’s barber shop,” the quintessential small-town hangout of the TV world of the late 1960s.

Mike Michta, a friend from Long Island, is up for a visit, thinking he might buy a house upstate. He sits down for a haircut, and Fred goes to work, deftly snipping and clipping.

Fred was in the restaurant business for decades, buying a pizza shop in Centerport, Long Island, at the age of 23 and owning a series of restaurants and delicatessens. In 1999, he realized a barber shop would be a lot less work. “It’s a gentleman’s profession,” he says. He bought the barber shop next door to his pizza shop. The owner, Frank, had cut hair there since 1950 and was known as the golfing barber. Every year Frank went to Scotland to play golf with Sean Connery. Joe kept Frank’s collection of antique bottles and imported them to Phoenicia, where he arranged them on the shelf over the counter in the same order he had always maintained. The labels read, for instance: Lilac Vegetal After-Shave, Fitch’s Ideal Hair Tonic, Stephan’s Dandruff Remover Hair Lotion with Oil. The walls are decorated with other vintage items: license plates, a Wildroot hair tonic ad, Mad Magazine covers, newspaper front pages with loud headlines (“Men Walk on the Moon,” “Nixon Resigns”).

“We used to do 45 to 55 haircuts a day on Saturdays,” says Joe. “We also did shaves, but then we got too busy. A haircut and a shave takes half an hour, and we just didn’t have time.” Men would come by and plop right into a chair, or if the line was too long, they’d come back in half an hour. (In the next couple of weeks, the Phoenicia shop will have shaves available as well.)

Meanwhile, Joe was taking his family on camping vacations in the Catskills most summers. They fell in love with the Phoenicia area. Although he enjoyed his Long Island community, it was changing. His four kids, now grown, were looking for houses they could afford, and prices are much more reasonable upstate. A son and a daughter have moved with Fred and his wife, Pam, to the Catskills. Joe obtained barber certification and takes breaks from heating and air conditioning work to help his father out in the shop. “It’s like hanging out in your living room,” says Joe. “You get to watch TV and conversate with people.”

Fred is already fond of the Phoenicia business community, especially his neighbors who lounge on the boardwalk to chat on temperate afternoons. “I like Rick from Ricciardella’s Realty, Karen from the Twig, Sunday from the tattoo shop, Dave from Tender Land Home, Mike who owns Brio’s,” says Fred. “It’s a great little town that has so much to offer.”

The Phoenicia Barbershop is located on the Boardwalk off Main Street, Phoenicia. It’s open Wednesday through Saturday, 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. A haircut costs $11, and no reservations are taken.

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