Updating a classic style

By gloria stravelli
Staff Writer

By gloria stravelli
Staff Writer

GLORIA STRAVELLI  John Abbatemarco gives Jonathan Fellis of Fair Haven a trim while his counterpart, Betsy O’Neill, styles a customer.GLORIA STRAVELLI John Abbatemarco gives Jonathan Fellis of Fair Haven a trim while his counterpart, Betsy O’Neill, styles a customer.

After 51 years of barbering, you might think a guy would have trouble getting used to curling irons and hair spray.

Not true, said John Abbatemarco, who has made the transition from old-time barbershop to modern hair salon with aplomb.

"It’s nice to have a brand-new place with everything modern," said Abbatemarco, whose barbershop, a fixture on Wall Street in Red Bank, was torn down to make way for an office complex.

The crowd of regulars that congregated at the Wall Street Barber Shop, some for more than 30 years, has moved up the road to where Abbatemarco has set up his chair at Men’s Hair/Women’s Fare, 120 Fair Haven Road, a salon that has expanded to include barber service.

"A lot of my customers could have gone closer, but 90 percent of the crew is still coming here," he said. "I have my regulars. It’s not that far, only a couple of miles up the road. We still get together in the mornings, just not every day like it used to be. Now it’s one or two times per week."

"Sometimes we tell them to watch the ‘salsa’ when they get to discussing sports," quipped salon owner Elizabeth "Betsy" O’Neill of the men’s sometimes salty language.

"The girls drive me nuts. Thank God I’m in the back," retorted Abbatemarco, who has his own area near the rear of the newly remodeled salon. "But the days go by fast. There’s plenty of people around to talk to."

Does he still dole out advice on sports, politics or matters of the heart like he used to in the good old days?

"I’m tryin’, but the ladies are giving me advice. I’ve learned a lot since I’ve been here," admitted the Red Bank resident.

Plus, he’s keeping up to date.

"I watch how they cut hair. I’m up on styles a lot more. I’m getting with it at my age," said the 68-year-old barber.

"It’s worked out well," said O’Neill. "He’s picked up some of the men customers, plus a lot of our women customers’ husbands have gone to John for years and now they come to the same place. Plus, it was important for him, after having a place for all those years."

Trained and licensed as a barber and cosmetologist, O’Neill opened Men’s Hair by Women at the present location in 1982.

By sheer coincidence, she purchased vintage barber chairs for the shop from Abbatemarco, who was selling some of his shop’s furnishings.

Over time, the shop evolved into a unisex salon serving both men and women, she said.

Earlier this year, O’Neill bought the nail salon that occupied a space at the front of the salon and absorbed it into the salon, which also offers waxing, manicures, pedicures and facials.

She said she hadn’t seen Abbatemarco in 20 years when, through word-of-mouth, she heard that his shop was to be demolished.

She stopped by his shop to talk to him about joining her staff.

"It really just kind of happened," she said. "I didn’t plan it, but I knew we were expanding and there is a call for more men’s haircutting. It’s a dying art. Also, it was a place for his customers to come."

Extensive renovations were undertaken to update the salon and create a work space for Abbatemarco, whose chair is situated behind a half wall at the rear of the salon — a spot the female staff has jokingly dubbed "the bungalow."

Renamed Men’s Hair/Women’s Fare, O’Neill’s business has a staff of three and has tripled in size as a result of the expansion and the addition of Abbatemarco, she said.

"It’s a lot of fun having a man added to the mix," said O’Neill, who is a resident of Fair Haven.

"It works. Our ladies aren’t uncomfortable, and at times we all get to kidding," he added.

"It’s a really nice blend of men’s and women’s services together," added O’Neill, who admitted the women on staff haven’t been able to convince any of the men to try a manicure as yet.

The move has also confirmed what women have suspected for years, she said.

"Men are just as bad as women, just like we’ve been telling them for years," O’Neill observed. "They gossip, but sports is generally the topic."

Abbatemarco agreed that things have worked out well.

"I’m happy. I really am," he said recently. "You know, it was tough because I had all my old friends there. But when you get to a new place and it’s a nice, modern place … and they [his old friends and clients] call me up here."