For the past several decades, there’s one barber on Revere Street who has been a cut above everyone else – and that would be Gus Pecoraro, otherwise known as Gus the Barber.
His tenure in his well-decorated shop near the intersection of American Legion Highway, however, will come to an end on Dec. 31 when he will throw in the towel (and the scissors) and retire after 46 years.
“I’m going to miss it,” said Pecoraro, 79, in his shop late last week. “I’ll miss talking to people and shooting the bull. That’s what I liked about it…People do tell you their troubles and you tell them yours. You listen a lot. And, of course, people talk about sports and politics as well.”
Pecoraro said his landlord informed him not long ago that he would have to close due to some problems with the zoning of the building. Initially, he was quite upset, but now he said he has a great landlord and is glad that the matter has been settled.
“I was upset and bummed out, but the more I think about it, it will be a blessing in disguise,” he said. “My wife says that. I kept saying over the years I’d give it up and I never did. Now it’s settled for me.”
Pecoraro is yet another of many long-time Revere figures and businesses that have gone by the wayside over the last few years. The list is long, and many long-time residents point out that such changes are particularly sad because – while turnover is inevitable – there aren’t many, if any, Gus the Barbers waiting in the wings.
Many stalwarts of Revere, things that didn’t change for decades, have changed rapidly over the last couple of years.
Gus the Barber’s retirement is just one on a long list.
“I cut hair for all the old-timers and over the last few years, I’ve lost a lot of customers,” he said.
Walking into Pecoraro’s shop was like visiting a playground.
There were model airplanes and cars everywhere.
There was an old-time cash register that worked mechanically and not digitally.
Pictures adorned every square inch of the wall, and posters with witty, tasteful sayings like, “Just about the time you think you can make ends meet, somebody moves the ends.”
Pecoraro said he spent three full days recently taking it all down.
Over the years, he has cut hair for many policemen, firefighters, and politicians, including one of his longest clients, Councillor George V. Colella. Interestingly enough, when Pecoraro started out, he regularly cut hair for Albert DiSalvo, the Boston Strangler.
Pecoraro began his life in Maine, growing up there before leaving to join the Navy at age 17. He spent six years in the Navy and saw action in the Korean War, serving on an ammunition ship.
It was during that stint in the Navy that Pecoraro got acquainted with Revere, and also with his future wife.
“My wife wrote me letters for 15 months before I ever met her,” he said. “In the Navy, my buddy was from Chelsea and was going with a girl from Dale Street in Revere. He told her that I didn’t get much mail. My wife and his girl were close, and they got my wife to write me a letter. That turned into several letters. After I got out, I went to Revere and lived with my sister on Broadway while I continued dating my future wife. We celebrated 55 years of marriage this year.”
After getting married and settling on Winthrop Place, Pecoraro and his wife started a family – raising two sons and a daughter (Michael, Joseph and Susan). They now have six grandchildren.
Pecoraro got his barber’s license in 1963 and worked in Malden for four years under another barber.
After that he set out on his own, finally settling on the corner of Broadway and Malden Street. He was there for 14 years before moving to his current Revere Street shop in 1984.
He said that many things have changed over the years, most notably the prices.
“I think when I went out on my own, I was getting $1.25 per haircut,” he said. “When I started in Malden, I think we weren’t even getting a dollar – maybe 80 cents. Everything like that has changed. You used to be able to go to the dentist and get a tooth filled for $5, but now it’s like $140 or something.”
He said that prices have gone up over the years mostly because customers don’t come to the barber as often as they used to. In his heyday, Pecoraro said that going to the barber was a weekly ritual for many men.
“The average customer came in every two weeks,” he said. “You had people who came in every week and three weeks was the longest anyone would go without coming in. Now, it’s like every three or four months. I still get steady customers, but I only see them two or three times a year.”
And that old straight razor and shaving soap? Well, that retired a long time before Pecoraro ever thought about retiring.
“A few years back, people would come in two or three times a week for a shave,” Gus said. “Those days are long gone. They have better razors and a lot of people shave with an electric razor. In fact, I use one too.”
In the next couple of months, Pecoraro will join many of his customers in retirement and he’ll put a long, full career behind him.
“I enjoy the people,” he said. “I had nice, nice people.”