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Old-fashioned barbershops a unique escape

OCEAN CITY — Finding a place to get a haircut isn’t a problem — it’s the problem.

Barber Giuseppe Biancaniello enjoys the conversation with a customer as he trims his hair at the Olde Tyme Barber Shop in Ocean City.

There are plenty of chain unisex hair salons along the Maryland-Delaware coast, but lost are the old-fashioned barbershops with the swirling red, white and blue poles that double as neighborhood hangouts.

Traditional barbershops are an endangered species. Stylists don’t use straight razors or offer shaves, and customers can’t sacrifice large chunks of their day.

A handful of barbershops refuse to relent, though. The Olde Tyme Barber Shop and Ray Perrone’s Barber Shop, separated by three blocks on Coastal Highway, are mainstays in the area because of their devotion to tradition.

Sure, they have scissors and clippers, but their weapon of choice is a straight razor.

They’re old-school barbers who know their customers by first name and can provide you with a directory of local businesses. They’re human Yellow Pages.

They’re staples of the community and pillars of the past. Though they may be in the minority now, they have no plans to change.

“For the old-timers and the old fellows, they want to go to a regular old-fashioned place,” Olde Tyme owner Sean Welsh said. “It’s a place for them to get away from the wife and that kind of stuff. We got quite a few of those guys who do that and retired people moving to the beach. It’s a lot of socializing, plus anyone who wants to know any information. They’ll stick their head in here and ask for someone who does drywall or trim, and one of the barbers will let them know what’s going on.”

Welsh opened Olde Tyme in Severna Park in 1991, then set up shop on 142nd Street in October 2011.

He assembled what he considered an all-star cast of local barbers, including Giuseppe Biancaniello, whose business card reads “Master Barber.”

Biancaniello, who relocated to Maryland from Italy, has 46 years of razor cuts in his back pocket. That’s how barbers were taught to do haircuts in the 1960s and ’70s. And though most stylists have resorted to scissors and clippers, Biancaniello is set in his ways — and happy for it.

“I was trained to do that. It’s something I always did and enjoyed doing it. In a way, Sean and I are the only ones left. It’s hard to say how many other barbers are doing it, but we’re trying to keep the barbershop alive,” Biancaniello said.

The art of shaving

Lesson No. 1 for Biancaniello: how to shave. If it seems unconventional now, that’s because it is. But 50 years ago, it was the norm.

Today, stylists are rushed in and out of school. They aren’t taught how to use the straight razor and they don’t get a lesson in shaving.

“They rush these kids out and they don’t teach them how to do shaving. It’s part of society,” Biancaniello said.

Down the road at Ray Perrone’s shop, the belief is there just aren’t enough true barbers anymore.

Owner Ray Perrone traced the problem back to a single year, 1978, when the first Hair Cuttery opened for business.

“They’ve been a pain in our butt ever since,” he said.

A true barber uses the straight razor to slice — not cut — the hair. He treats a fade like an artist would a portrait, and his work with clippers and scissors mirrors that of a surgeon.

That’s why Ocean City resident John Jones has never looked elsewhere for a cut.

“[I’ve been] going to barbershops since I was a kid in Baltimore,” he said. “I’ve never went to a unisex shop. You come [to Ray’s] for a good barber.”

At most salons, the attention to detail just isn’t there, Biancaniello said.

“Every haircut is different. You can’t do a guy’s haircut the same way every time,” he said. “You go into a shop today and they say, ‘I want a No. 2 all over.’ A monkey could do that. The art of a good barber is truly lost.”

For the most part, the days when getting a haircut was a relaxing, enjoyable experience are out the door.

Now people want to get in, out and on their way. They’re always in a hurry. Getting a haircut is more of a chore to check off their to-do list.

“Everything changes. We live in a fast-paced world. Barbers want to take their time, but everyone is in a hurry,” Biancaniello said. “People used to spend an hour in the barbershop. Now people want to get in and get out.”

By the time he was 16, Perrone said he didn’t know there was any other place to get a haircut other than a barbershop.

No ‘girly’ cuts

For a boy, the unique experience of sitting in a barber’s chair for the first time is a stop along their journey into manhood.

A New York business owner stops in at Perrone’s twice every year. Recently, he brought his son in for the first time.

The father gets a Marine-style flat top, while his son gets a classic buzz cut.

“[They] don’t want one of these … girly cuts,” Perrone said. “[They] want barbers, tapered haircuts, hot lather around the neck and the straight razor. That’s the best part of the haircut.”

What Olde Tyme, Perrone’s and a few others across Delmarva offer is a unique escape from the 9-to-5 grind.

Sure, people go there to clean up before a date or the first day of school, but it also always gives them a chance to vent about their boss, swap stories from the weekend or argue about whether or not the Washington Redskins are a playoff-caliber team this season.

“It’s like going to a local bar,” Jones said. “You shoot the breeze. It’s like a family here.”