Address: 372 High St, Northcote VIC 3070
From an interview with Frank in 2021 that has been edited
Published in collaboration with the Darebin City Council
I started at 13 as a professional barber in Greece.
My uncle used to run a barbershop. After school, I would go to the shop because I didn’t want to be in the soil and mud where the other kids used to play. I’d do my homework and – after that – I had nothing to do, so I’d watch my uncle while he was working.
I would talk with the customers about different subjects, and all the time I was watching him and picking up skills. One Friday, at school, a friend of mine was ordered by the principal to have a haircut. In those years, these razor blades didn’t exist, and the barbers would only shave twice a week; Wednesdays and Saturdays.
My friend couldn’t go in on a Saturday, so I said to him, “you know what we’re going to do? On Sunday, when the shop is closed, I’ll get the key, we’ll go inside and I’ll cut your hair.”
So we went to the back room on Sunday afternoon, and I cut his hair. That haircut was my first one, and it took me 3.5 hours to finish. I learned from watching my uncle. I’d never touched the tools before, but the only thing my friend was concerned about was avoiding the school penalty.
On Monday, when we went back to school, the principal saw my friend and said, “who cut your hair?” I thought I did the wrong thing. I was shaking. But the principal said, “that’s exactly what the regulations want.”
“I’ll recommend all my students to him,”
The principal knew I was a good student, but that I also had a touch of talent in my hands.
Later that year, my uncle got on a donkey in the farm, fell and was injured.
He was in the hospital, and I stayed in the shop to let customers know that he had an accident and would come back when he was fit again. They’d say, “by the way, give me a shave.” One after the other, I gave them shaves, and haircuts as well.
My uncle never came back because of his injury, and I stopped school to work in the barber shop. At 13 years of age, I was giving grown men shaves and haircuts. The haircuts were alright, but shaving was a bit scary because of the cut razor. Nevertheless, I was trusted by the customer.
Customers would say, “oh, Frank, you’re better than your uncle,” which gave me confidence. If the principal didn’t compliment my haircut, I might not have had that courage to carry on. And, if my uncle didn’t fall off the donkey, maybe I wouldn’t have been a barber at all.
However, my father was a barber, and my grandfather was a barber in America in the 1800s, so it’s in in the blood
I came to Australia in 1965.
I was running the shop in Greece, but I had to close because of my army service, which was compulsory for 2.5 years. The shop was rented to somebody else.
I went to Athens to work as a barber in the military. The soldiers had no choice but to have a haircut, which was very short with a machine. I was using scissors a little bit. Everybody had the same haircut, but I wanted to do something different.
When I finished, my uncle’s barber shop was closed, so after a while, I left for Australia. I started working as a barber in South Melbourne for a few years. I then moved to Lonsdale St, opposite what was then the Queen Victoria Hospital.
I worked for five years there, then in North Carlton for three years. In 1972, I moved to the Vic Shearing Shed – which doesn’t exist anymore – and worked for three more years on High St, Northcote. After that business was sold, I came here and opened my own business in 1975. I’ve been here ever since, and it will probably be my last stop.
I was supposed to come to Melbourne for five years, but I’m still here.
The style wasn’t different in Greece compared to Melbourne.
Hair fashion goes all around the world.
When I started, the haircut I did for my mate at school was popular. After that – around the 1960s during The Beatles era – the fashion moved to long hair. Then short-back-and-sides came back, which is what I recommend now. If you go shorter than a number two, it can be too short, so I like to leave a bit of hair on the side.
A barber has to know what they’re doing, and how to do it. A lot of the time, when the customer doesn’t know what they want, I say, “terrific” and give them my style. It’s what they want, but it’s also following the fashion and my own way.
I’ve been in this shop for 46 years now.
It’s not the same customers from the beginning – only one, a taxi driver, who’s been with me since South Melbourne. He followed me across Melbourne, and still comes here. Last year, he was coming in, but couldn’t get up the step. I said, “from now on, give us a ring, and I’ll come to you.” I owe him, and it’s a great honour to do it.
We also have three generations coming here. I used to put the little seat out for the kids, now they bring their own kids in. In those years, I’d give them a packet of Juicyfruit, now we give them lollies. For me, it’s great, and for them it’s great too.
If you came here in 1976, the shop is exactly the same besides a few small changes.
It’s mostly locals, but I have a customer who comes from Canberra.
When they come to Melbourne they get a haircut as well.
The best advertisement is word of mouth. Customers mix with others, and say, “where did you get your haircut.”
“Who cut your hair?”
It’s not my friends, but customers themselves who spread the word.
I also wear the white coat when I’m here, which is the tradition.
Over the last year, we were closed for some time.
Because I’m a bit old – to protect myself and others – I stayed home.
It was my first break in all those years, and I couldn’t accept it. Many times, during the night, I thought I was here. My hair grew very long, and I got calls from customers begging me to cut their hair.
When the shop was allowed to open, lines formed up the street! A customer came and said, “Frank, I had to go through lock-down to realise how important your skill is.”
A lot of people felt that way.
It’s a way for people to care for themselves.
I love this job. I love the success.
When the customer is happy, I get satisfaction and good feelings.
A good haircut gives someone confidence, and they feel better about themselves. Often they say, “I feel younger now.” It’s meaningful to hear that people feel better than before they came in because of my work. It makes me happy.
Men also talk, and this can be like therapy. They share with me, and I give them advice when they think their problem is the biggest in the world. They keep it in, and they might not have talked about it until coming here, so discussing it can be a great relief.
So the plan is to keep working. I don’t want to retire. I get great satisfaction working with my family and having this story to talk about.
I have no headaches.
Written by Aron Lewin with all photos by Tatiana C.C. Scott