Spend every working hour with the same crew of troublemakers and you’ll perfect your comedic timing. Such has been the case with the Brothers Fiumefreddo of The Park Slope Barber, who have been busting chops while chopping busts for 50 years.
Situated on Seventh Avenue between Third and Fourth Streets, their workshop is part cutting room, part time capsule. Five chairs sit in line for the three gentlemen, who pass their afternoons bantering with each other, recounting the days of yore, and singing along with classic Italian tunes while sculpting whatever scalps happen to be in front of them. The tradition has been passed down since 1903, despite what’s written on the awning (1904) and the window (1906).
On this Friday afternoon, Angelo, the eldest, sports a Yankees warm-up jacket. He and Vito trade most of the barbs, while Johnny assumes the role of straight man.
Today’s main topic is a regular who showed up drunk the previous afternoon and made a fool of himself. Their tone runs the gamut from annoyed to amused, often hitting both ends simultaneously. Weathered clients jump into the fray, making themselves targets for playful derision.
Every person who enters is greeted by name; I’m an outlier, a visitor to a foreign land. Nevertheless, I feel at home.
The trio is intrigued by my neighborhood project. “Do you know that guy from The Daily News?” Angelo asks me as he sizes up a customer’s lock. “He writes about Park Slope history. I run into him in church sometimes.”
“Wait a minute,” interjects Vito. Chuckles ripple through the shop; the regulars know the punch line. Vito milks the pause, then continues. “When’s the last time you went to church?”
It’s a family affair in every sense of the word: the boys took over the business from their father. They moved from across the street, a space now home to Mr. Falafel, in 1974. They own this building and rent out the upstairs apartments.
The three brothers were once as tight-knit in terms of geography, too, but time has loosened those bonds. While Angelo still lives across the street, the other two have embraced the suburban lifestyle: Vito in Staten Island, Johnny in Westchester. Both face a 75-minute commute in each direction, which they cover on public transit.
They wouldn’t have it any other way. This is their home, the place they grew up. The smell of wet hair and the company of their brothers is their chicken soup.
In a nod, perhaps, to the difficulties of the road-warrior lifestyle, they recently cut back their work week to five days, from seven. Angelo suggests another reason for the reduced hours. “All of our regulars are dying,” he jokes.
Tom Meany, the President of my running club, has been getting his ears lowered here since he was a boy, and I trust his taste. Tempting the possibility that I will become one of the fold, I hop into Vito’s chair and tell him to do whatever he feels appropriate.
Between the old-style Brooklyn language (which magically disappears in mixed company), the recordings of Jimmy Roselli (Vito puts a gentle touch on “When Your Old Wedding Ring Was New” as he works my future widow’s peak), and the antiquated accoutrements littering the space (including a towel-steamer and cupboards to store each customer’s personal shaving items), this barbershop is a reminder of a Park Slope that slowly fades each time a fro-yo shop or a trendy clothier evicts a mom-and-pop restaurant or a longtime dive bar. It’s the sort of place you hang around to hear the local gossip, to wait between appointments, to take a break from the cold – no purchase necessary.
I ask the brothers, these fixtures of Seventh Avenue, for their thoughts on how the neighborhood has shifted over the past 40 years. “Park Slope hasn’t changed,” Vito says. “The people have changed.”
And at least for this little slice of Brooklyn history, with its antique barber pole, decades-old photos, unchanging playlist, and insulation from skyrocketing rents, this might be true.