A few questions for the men out there. How much did you pay for your last haircut? I’m talking about just a simple cut, nothing fancy. Did you have to make an appointment? Did you have to wait a long time for your personal barber? I bet you paid $20 or $30 before you even got to the tip.
How about that buzz cut for the kids? I bet it cost you at least 40 bucks with tip for both little Johnny and Billy to spend less than five minutes in the chair.
I wandered into Pat’s Barbershop in Bethpage about 25 years ago, when they were still located on Hempstead Turnpike, attached to the old Pergament Home Center store. As a customer of Pergament’s, you had to walk past Pat’s to get inside. Of course, I snobbishly scoffed at the giant sign proclaiming “$3 Haircuts.” What self-respecting adult would put their locks in the hands of a $3 barber?
My mother was always pretty handy with a scissor and, since I never got that male-modeling job at Vogue magazine, she became my personal barber for a few years. We spent quality time together and although no barber would dare mention my increasing bald spot, there was always a dish of macaroni in it for me at the end. Then she broke her wrist in a freak accident and suddenly, I needed to find a barber.
After spending almost $30 (with a coupon) at a place where I needed to make an appointment (and still had to wait), I found myself in Pergament’s for a light fixture. On my way out, I passed by Pat’s and that enticing “$3 Haircuts” sign. My brother had been getting his hair cut at Pat’s for years and always spoke so passionately about the place and the different barbers available, I just had to give it a try.
A few weeks later, I ambled into Pat’s like a wide-eyed rookie at his first spring training. There were barbers everywhere. I was actually nervous about getting my hair cut, but the friendly barber with an Italian accent put me at ease. We talked about baseball and before I knew it, the deed was done. I’ve been a loyal customer ever since.
Opened in 1970 by Pasquale (“Pat”) Palumbo, Pat’s remained anchored to the deserted shell of Pergament’s even after it closed in 1999. They moved across the turnpike in 2003 when the bulldozers finally came to make room for the new Pathmark. Today, you’ll find 11 chairs available seven-days-a-week, each one manned by barbers from various ethnic backgrounds.
The United Nations General Assembly has nothing on Pat’s diversity. Italian, Polish, Russian, Israeli, Greek, American—it’s a virtual cornucopia of languages and accents. Although many patrons may have their favorites, I’ve always preferred to just take the next available barber. I show up, make my way to the next available chair and relax, knowing my head is in good hands.
No matter how crowded it may be on a Saturday afternoon, you are never more than five minutes from an empty chair. In all those years, that “$3 Haircuts” sign I first spied in the early 1990s has barely changed. Every barber at Pat’s gives a quality haircut without wasting their time or yours. I don’t think I’ve ever spent more than 15 minutes from walking in to walking out.
Pasquale’s children, Rose and Charlie, have continued their father’s family-owned legacy and for almost 50 years, Pat’s has been providing a quality haircut in a pleasant environment, for a more than reasonable price. I challenge you to find a quality haircut that will cost you $10, even with a generous tip.
Some people seem surprised when I tell them about my loyalty to Pat’s and sneer at the thought of what is now a $6 haircut. You know what? Let them spend their hard-earned money in some pretentious salon, where a stylist is going to use the same tools of the trade to perform the only ritual that separates us from the hippies, a simple haircut. I’ll take my adopted international family, with their friendly smiles and broken English any day.
There even seems to be a secret society of loyalists to Pat’s. When we do encounter a fellow customer, there is a kinship. We may not have a secret handshake or a trademark salute like Ralph and Ed have with the Racoon Lodge, but we all know that we are part of something special.
Imagine the business they could be doing if they just gave everyone a bowl of macaroni on the way out?