Barber shops survive the big boxing of the Northside


There are places in the world where a boy’s first hair cut is a rite of passage. While not quite the case here on the Northside, regular trips to a barber shop begin at an early age and continue to some point where a barber has to come to you.

In the past quarter century many of us on the Northside have watched the gradual demise of neighborhood grocery stores, bakeries, hardware stores and pharmacies. The rise of “big box” chains have taken the place of these smaller and neighborhood-centered businesses. But, one institution continues serving its customers in the personal manners of the “good old days.” That is the institution of the barber shop.

About eight years ago, I took my grandson Blaise, now 11, for his first visit to Mr. Fred Tait’s shop on Galveston Avenue. Fred Tait has been a barber on the Northside for many many years.
His shop, like most barber shops, is a community experience. Customers, youngsters and parents of the youngsters relax in the comfortable chairs and sofa at Mr. Taits’ waiting for their time in “the chair.”

The shop has an atmosphere that is accurately portrayed in the movie “Barber Shop.”

When Blaise was in those pre-school years, Fred Tait could hold his head firmly with one hand as the electric clippers were moved skillfully about his head producing a first-rate job.

About five years ago, Jerry, the second in command at Tait’s, took over the task of giving Blaise his regular clip. Blaise and Jerry share a common birthday, separated by “only” a few decades.

Jerry also has the knack of creating hair designs, almost like a tattoo, with his clippers. Jerry and Blaise agree on the design before the buzzing begins. It is their decision. I simply sit in amazement while reading the magazines. There is always a stack of new and old magazines in any decently equipped barber shop. When not reading, I enjoy the ongoing conversation between all of us, barbers, customers, friends and relatives who happen to be in the shop.

The services of barbers, like doctors and dentists, are selected for a variety of reason and last for many years. While Blaise now goes to Jerry at Mr. Tait’s, I go to Dave’s at Foreland and James. My selection of Dave occurred early in the ’70s when Dave’s shop was located in the old Martin Building on Federal Street. As plans for PNC Park moved to fruition, Dave moved his shop to East Allegheny/Historic Deutschtown.

As with any good barber, his customers moved accordingly. For whatever my two bits are worth, I find that Dave’s beard trim and haircut are just right. The atmosphere at Dave’s is similar to that of Mr. Tait’s.

However, every “real” barber shop has its own features. NO APPOINTMENTS HERE.

You simply wait for your move into “the chair.’ Over the years, customers’ paths cross. Family stories, comments related to current events, neighborhood issues and a few “barbershop jokes” are exchanged as the clippers and scissors of a master barber transform a shaggy dome and beard into a smart look.  Dave and I, and I assume many of his “regulars,” have shared many episodes of a lifetime.

Whether it is Mr. Tait or Jerry or Dave, the barber shop has remained an institution that is constant regardless of changes in hair styles. I would imagine the same could be said of many other barbershops on the Northside and around the city. Courtesy and comfort are there.

But, above all is the personal attention paid to the person as well as the hair that make these places special. It is these qualities that do indeed make the barber shop a survivor in the “big boxing” of life on the Northside.

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