It was the kind of place where there were cookies and coffee (or even a glass of whiskey or wine) waiting for anyone who walked in the door around Christmas. It was the spot where committeemen and block captains once congregated. It was a place to hang out. It was, of course, the barber shop.
After 102 years, the Wissahickon Barber Shop, one of the oldest businesses in Northwest Philadelphia and once a center of neighborhood life, is closed for good.
Sabatine “Sab” LaNoce, who put the business on hiatus last April after an injury and spent the summer mulling over the decision while recovering has hung up his clippers and scissors at age 81.
“My legs, after 60 years of cutting hair, are not what they used to be,” he concluded following his wife’s persuasion. “The arms and shoulders get arthritic too after so many years of work.”
The shop, which was first opened by LaNoce’s father Sabatino and stands at 5113 Rochelle Ave., is in many ways a relic of a bygone Wissahickon that once buzzed with candy shops, cigar stores, ice cream parlors and shoemakers.
“You didn’t have to go out of Wissahickon for anything,” said LaNoce.
While families still flock to the neighborhood, it is more of a bedroom community. “All of the businesses I knew as a young man or even a child have faded away,” said LaNoce.
Each of those store closings “left a void” for LaNoce and he hopes the end of his shop “doesn’t make hard feelings in the neighborhood if they don’t see the barber pole turning anymore.”
In reality, the barber pole was stolen about 20 years ago. A hole in the sidewalk marks the spot where it stood. LaNoce never replaced it because it dated to the 1930s and “they don’t make those ones anymore.”
As the oldest institution around, the Wissahickon Barber Shop was also a link to the past for those who have left the area. Many who moved to the suburbs or beyond would stop in when they came back to visit and say, “I just wanted to see if you were still here” and if he could remember their names.
LaNoce has only one regret. He wishes his illness hadn’t ended it all so abruptly. He wishes he could have given his customers, who he considers his friends, some notice, warned them, and helped them find their next barber.
He did call up a few to recommend they go to Len Simon “up on the ridge,” but in a sad twist of fate, Simon passed away shortly thereafter.
Returning to his closed shop, LaNoce is filled with memories of sweeping hair and shining shoes at his father’s side. Many neighbors’ memories go back just as far.
Phil Moyer has had his hair cut at the shop since his was a kid, as his father did before him. When the shop closed it was a shock, and he didn’t know where to go.
He finally decided on Men’s Club on Shawmont Avenue because he heard there was a barber there who used to work for LaNoce.
“What I miss about Sab is the good conversation, talking about the old days playing football, and other things,” said Moyer. “It was like a club.”
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What LaNoce would like most of all is if another barber moved into his old shop. If not, he’d like it to at least be a neighborhood business like he had. It is hard for him to take care of the property and he thinks it is time to give someone else a chance. Now that his work is done, he just hopes he did it well.
As if to provide affirmation, Moyer simply said of LaNoce, “Junior was a good man and a good barber.”
See below for a NewsWorks video on the shop’s 100th anniversary in 2011.