AKRON, Ohio — Costanzo’s West Park Barber Shop is a step back in time.
The back bar, sinks and mirrors are vintage — late 1940s or ’50s. But the proprietor, Fred Costanzo, is not.
I was scheduled to meet Fred’s nephew, Santo Costanzo Jr., at the shop — so when I walked in and saw a good-looking fella with slicked-back black hair lounging in one of the antique barber chairs, I thought it was Santo.
I introduced myself and asked his name. “Well, I’m Fred,” he said. “That can’t be,” I told him. “Fred is 85.”
The debonair Italian has been cutting hair for 66 years. He’s lowered the ears of the likes of Charles Pilliod, the former chairman and CEO of Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.
At one time, Fred was in the business with his late brothers, Biagio and Santo. Today, he works Wednesdays through Saturdays at his shop in West Akron.
The grandfather was known, particularly in the ’50s and ’60s, as Akron’s “Flattop King.” No one could do it better, so fellows lined up to take a seat in his red leather chair with chrome arms and ashtrays. Of course, Fred still uses that Cadillac of a chair. “Just think how many butts have sat on that chair,” teased nephew Santo. So many that another nephew, Ross Costanzo, offered to do a little math to figure it out: “Over the years, 85,800 to 102,960 is a conservative estimate,” Ross said.
Years ago, when those longhair Beatles gained popularity in the ’60s, the hair-cutting business suffered. “The fathers would bring in the boys and say cut it one way, and the kids would be crying because they wanted to keep it long,” Fred said with a laugh.
But fads move on and the Costanzo shop kept going. He still uses an antique cash register and displays the heads of animals hung near the ceiling that he shot years ago. Wild boar, two bears, antelope and deer. He notes that he ate the meat them all. “It didn’t taste like chicken, but it’s not bad eating,” he said.
Fred, whose wife, Dolores, died in 2006, said he has no plans to retire. “I just enjoy my work and it gives me something to keep myself occupied,” he said. “I’m too old to chase the young women around, so I have to do something to keep busy.”
As the news photographer and I were about to leave on a chilly December day, customer Harvey Post stopped by to see Fred. He has been getting his hair trimmed by the “Flattop King” for 47 years. “And he’s going to keep doing it until he gets it right,” Post said, joking. “I drive from Medina [a bit more than 20 miles away] just to get a haircut because Fred is that good. Besides, it feels like old times when I come in here.”
Fred usually answers calls to the shop himself — on his rotary phone.