Seventy-five cents. That’s how much a haircut cost when Corrado Accaputo started working at the barbershop that would eventually take on his name more than 50 years ago. Back then 75 cents was a lot of money, he explains, especially for a kid like him, fresh off a boat from Italy, trying to find his way in a dizzying, foreign land.
“When I came over from Italy it was 1957, I got to Union Station here in Toronto, it was the 25th of March, 1957. It was a long time ago. I was only 17-years-old.”
“You could buy a glass of beer for 10 cents, bread for 10 cents, you could buy a whole chicken for 12 cents,” he remembers. Now he’s 68, and 75 cents will hardly get you a chicken wing, never mind the whole bird.
Today, haircuts at Corrado’s barbershop on Bathurst Street near Richmond will set you back a cool twenty. It’s still relatively cheap and the entertainment value of the experience alone makes you quickly forget about inflation.
Corrado’s colourful personality strikes long before his scissors, and he deftly maneuvers from blush-inducing jokes to philosophical forays into life, love and sacrifice.
Sacrifice is something he knows quite intimately. A few short weeks after arriving in Canada he landed a job in a barbershop, then owned by Augustino Gentile. Six years later, after a lot of saving and sweating, he would own the business, erecting a large wooden sign bearing his name that still stands today.
Over the years, he’s seen the neighbouhood change drastically, but his customers continue to find comfort in the fact that Corrado has stubbornly refused change, even holding onto the dusty vintage Playboys and Jessica Hahn posters that used to be standard barbershop décor, but now seem especially bold in a time of hyper-political correctness.
“They are very loyal people,” he says of his hardcore group of regulars. “Seventy five percent are people who have come since they were 12 or 13 and they still come.”
“They are my friends, they are my brothers, they are people who give me bread, so I can’t complain. They are the best.”
It’s that dedicated group of patrons that kept Accaputo in business over the years, helping him survive some potentially disastrous fashion trends.
“In the Beatles time around 1966 the whole barber business went down,” he says, referring to how the Fab Four kicked off the long-hair trend with their shaggy mops.
Then came the salons, a topic that brings out his fiery Sicilian temper a bit.
“Those guys today that call themselves salons, they don’t know how to shave, they don’t know how to do brush cuts. They don’t know how to do taper at the back, and that’s an art to do tapering. But people go. They pay a lot of money. Some of these guys are charging 60, 70, 80 dollars for a haircut and people go.”
Much to the dismay of his customers, Corrado is planning on closing up shop in a few short years. After more than half a century of brush cuts and shaves, he’s ready for a break, and an escape from the cold Toronto weather.
“I’ll be 70-years-old (soon), after that I don’t want to do anything anymore,” he adds. “I want to go back to Sicily, six months here and six months there. Winter there, and summer here.
“What are you gonna do? Live the life, keep going and always move (forward). The world won’t stop whether we are here or not.”
It may not stop, but you can bet there will be quite a few former clients of Corrado’s old-style Italian barbershop snickering when they pass the latest high-priced salon, remembering when haircuts, and the times, were a little bit simpler.