In Wayne, the barber shop that gentrification forgot

Pat Shannon, who turns 70 on Friday, takes a break between customers outside Pat's Barber Shop in Wayne.
Pat Shannon, who turns 70 on Friday, takes a break between customers outside Pat's Barber Shop in Wayne. (MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 15, 2014

Pat Shannon purses his lips into a frown with each clip of the scissors and stroke of the razor, the lines across his face a testament to decades of repetition.

Tucked in a tiny storefront in Wayne, Pat's Barber Shop has kept the same business model for more than 35 years: No appointments, no credit cards, and no frills.

It will remain the same "as long as I have people coming in," Shannon said.

In a Main Line town that boasts of fine dining and boutiques, Pat's Barber Shop is the place that gentrification forgot, a reminder of the past on North Wayne Avenue. The street, once lined with mom-and-pop shops, now is a veritable restaurant row.

"You have to remember the people have changed," said William Spingler, a longtime Wayne resident and commissioner in Radnor Township. "The way it was in the '50s and '60s, most of those people aren't around. There's only a few of us."

Shannon, who turns 70 on Friday, has no plans to retire from cutting hair and sees no reason to change.

Despite the influx of stylish coffee shops and upscale salons, he figures men will pay cash for a simple haircut. Evidently he is right; they still fill his small back room to wait for a few minutes in the barber's chair.

As he sat in Pat's Barber Shop last week, 76-year-old William Gamble worried that Wayne is becoming "too gentrified." He struggled to remember the nickname New York Times columnist and Radnor High School graduate David Brooks gave to Wayne's nouveau upper class: Bobos, short for both "bohemian" and "bourgeois."

Some of Shannon's customers have been loyal for decades, but he also draws a younger crowd. Nick Amadio, 25, of Drexel Hill, said he found the barbershop with a quick Google search. He had his sixth haircut with Shannon this week and plans to return, because "it's hard to find a good haircut, I'll tell you."

Longtime customers say they like to chat with Shannon. He loves to argue about sports, but said he tries to keep his politics to himself.

"This one guy said to me today, 'You know Pat, Hillary's going to be our next president,' " he said. "I said, 'You think? Yeah, is that right?' "

Spingler said that while restaurants have revitalized Wayne's downtown in the last 20 years, the area won't lose its small-town feel, because that makes the Delaware County community such a desirable location.

Bob D'Amicantonio, co-owner of D'Amicantonio Men's Shoes on Lancaster Avenue, said he does not mind the restaurants and chain stores such as Gap moving into Wayne. A Wayne native, D'Amicantonio and his brother Louis now run the business their grandfather started in 1932.

"With that strong restaurant rollup on North Wayne Avenue, I think it's brought people from larger areas," he said. "I think before, it was kind of a sleepy town with a local customer base."

As other small businesses that have adapted to the 21st century, one of the only changes at Pat's is a ban on smoking inside. For years, Shannon kept a cigarette burning in the ashtray on his counter, taking puffs as he worked. He quit about 20 years ago, and told customers to light up elsewhere.

Inside, the wood floors and countertop are covered in dust and powder. Shannon sweeps hair into a chute in the floor after every few customers.

When someone asks for hair coloring, Shannon responds, "What you're looking for is on the shelf in Rite Aid." When a man pulls out a credit card, he sends him around the corner to an ATM.

Cuts cost between $13 and $15, Shannon said, "depending on how much hair, how much work." Most men simply hand him a wad of cash on their way out the door, and he places the bills in the drawer of an antique cash register.

Shannon grew up in Philadelphia, and began painting houses after high school. That job didn't suit him - "you couldn't hold a conversation with a painted wall," he said - so he went to Tri-City Barber School at Ninth and Race Streets.

He began his barbering career on Villanova University's campus, where he worked until a friend invited him to the shop on North Wayne Avenue. They worked side-by-side for about five years until the other barber moved away, and Pat's Barber Shop was born.

Shannon and his wife live in Oreland, where Shannon boards the train into the city most mornings before catching another train bound for Wayne. He spends his Sundays and Mondays in New Jersey, with his son and daughter and grandchildren. His own hairdresser is his daughter, who has worked as a hairstylist and now stays at home with her children.

Years ago, small shops lined the short street leading to Wayne's SEPTA station. Today, the traditional barber pole appears out of place in the vicinity of restaurants such as Xilantro, which serves Mexican cuisine, the Matador tapas and tequila bar, and J.D. McGillicuddy's Irish Pub.

In the evenings, North Wayne Avenue comes to life as diners fill the restaurants, and parking spaces are scarce. Shannon stays inside, waving to passersby and working as late as he has customers.

He finishes each cut with a spritz of water and a brush of powder. "Next," he calls out to the waiting room, wrapping the maroon barber's cape around the next man to sink into his chair.

lmccrystal@phillynews.com

610-313-8116610-313-8116 @Lmccrystal

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