Enter just about any barber shop, anywhere, and count on a few things: a bell on the door, bright lighting, seats that line the wall overlooking the barber stations and swivel chairs. Combs soak in a jar of blue Barbicide and talkative, animated men wearing double breasted barber coats slather shaving cream on scruffy necks and gesture with scissors in their hands.
If barbershops are so "standardized," how come so many men seem to be loyal to just one? Patch checked out two shops in Haddonfield that, by proximity, are bound to compete for customers, and found that return customers are more about relationships and tradition than hours and location.
Caravelli’s Barber Shop and Frank’s Men’s Hair Styling sit across Kings Highway from one another. One claims to be the “oldest barber shop in New Jersey” while the other says it is the “third oldest businesses on Kings Highway.” Both acknowledge one another, are friendly even.
“We talk a lot," Frank Montemurro, owner of Frank’s, said of the two shops. "He comes here, I go over there. It’s a very neat relationship, unique…Mike is a good guy. If anyone is going to be my neighbor, I’d want it to be him.”
Mike Fiore, 67, who helps out at Caravelli’s with his son, Anthony, said of Frank’s, “They have their customers, we have ours…It’s easier to be friends…we’re not money hungry guys.”
Mike Fiore was a friend of the original owner, the Caravellis, whose family still owns the building and lives in the back residence attached to the shop. According to Anthony Fiore, his father knew Fred Caravelli from 1970 to 1990 when Fiore worked in title insurance and came to the shop for haircuts. The Fiore family had a tradition in the barber business reaching back four generations.
Anthony Fiore said, “When Fred Caravelli passed away, there was a void.”
Mike Fiore arranged to fill that void and carry on the barbering tradition in both his family and the Caravellis' by running the shop. The Caravellis still own the building.
According to the Fiore’s accounts, Caravelli family members were barbers as far back as the early 1900s, running shops in train terminals, offering shoe shines and hat blocking services in addition to haircuts. The Haddonfield shop dates back to 1902.
“The barber pole is not original,” said Anthony Fiore, “We believe it is from 1947. At first the pole wasn’t electric. After kids got their hair cut, if they were good, they could go out and crank the barber pole.”
And if Caravelli’s can have one of the oldest barber shops in New Jersey, Frank’s claim to fame would have to be a signed poster of Bruce Springsteen, the "Boss" himself, standing outside the shop and leaning against the barber pole.
“I used to cut his best friend’s hair,” was all the explanation Montemurro gave for the shop’s brush with the famous story-telling rocker from New Jersey not known for his haircuts. The poster of Springsteen hangs on the wall. It was the front cover of a photographic portrait called Days of Hopes and Dreams: An Intimate Portrait of Bruce Springsteen, published in August 2007.
Generations of Caravelli customers with 50 or more years of loyalty have shaving mugs displayed in the shop. Both Caravellis take a lot of pride in the families they see.
“We do a lot of first haircuts," Mike Fiore said. "We never charge for the first haircut.”
Anthony added, “We see families. A father brings two sons and we see kids go from babies, and all of a sudden you are having conversations with them.”
Frank’s shop has a different vibe, but boasts the same kind of customer loyalty.
“I’ve been coming here for 14 or 15 years. I stop on the way home,” said Audubon high school teacher Mark Oberg. He lives in the Marlton section of Evesham.
Fletcher Duddy has been going to Frank’s to stylist Kim Maggard for about a year and a half. “This place sure beats Supercuts,” he said.
Both Maggard and stylist Joe Graziano have worked for Montemurro for more than 10 years.
Montemurro opened the shop in 1981.
“It was a one chair shop when I bought it. I built it up to a six chair.”
He says he sees generations of customers with a loyal following that includes grandfathers, uncles, dads, brothers, whole families.
Three-and-a-half year-old Harrison Shea recently sat obediently in Montemurro’s front window chair for his fourth haircut at Frank’s. He and his mother, Allison Shea, and his hairless, 1 1/2-year-old little brother tried Caravelli’s shop too. “The barber called Harrison ‘muscles marinara,’” Shea said with a smile. “You can see he’s just a slip of a lad. They were nice.”
The Sheas settled on Frank’s as their barber shop after recently moving back home from Singapore.
Both owners say they have the “only two lighted signs on Kings Highway; we were grandfathered in.”
Caravelli’s Barber Shop, 795-7405, and Frank’s Men’s Hair Styling, 429-9813. Both are walk-ins only, no appointment necessary.