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At Freddy’s Barber Shop, old-school style meets modern convenience

Gianluca Prigione respects tradition while adding new conveniences to iconic Barber Shop

When he took over Freddy’s – Guelph’s iconic barber shop – in 2021, Gianluca Prigione said he was hoping to give nostalgia a modern twist.

And although fashions come and go with the times, Prigione still draws plenty of inspiration from the past.

After all, there’s a few things about style that remain constant.

“At the end of the day, it's the relationship between you and the client that keeps people coming back,” Prigione said.

Call him a throwback, or as he says – a “sucker for nostalgia,” – but Prigione is on the hunt for that perfect blend of old-school craftsmanship and modern convenience.

Today’s client might be sporting an 80’s-era mullet, be plugged into Sinatra on Spotify, and pay by tap, but it’s the lessons learned from 60 plus years in the barber shop that made Freddy’s a staple in the community.

And Prigione said he’s not taking those lessons for granted.

“Some guys that have been coming since the very beginning stop in and say they appreciate that we’re still respecting the business, still respecting the people that built it.”

“We’ve had a bit of a facelift,” he said. “And we’ve some new things on the tech side, but it’s great that those guys tell me that we’re doing a good job with the place.”

Maybe Prigione’s been able to win over the original customers because the old-style vibe has never left Freddy’s.

Black-and-white photos of Elvis, Dean Martin and the Beatles hang on the wall in front of his barber’s chair. There’s also a functional rotary phone on Prigione’s side table. A 1969 Coca Cola fridge sits stocked with glass bottles of Coke and Pop Shoppe sodas. A rack of classic comic books – New Mutants, the Fantastic Four – hangs ready to read. All relics from the past, but the modern gent will appreciate the barber shop’s tech-savvy additions.

Especially when it comes to booking an appointment through the Squire app.

“We're still one of the old-school places in town, but we have upgraded a lot, to electronic payments and booking online,” Prigione said. “We bring in a lot of technology and that's definitely helped smooth things over for a lot of us.”

In the not too distant past, customers would show up at Freddy’s first thing on Saturday morning for a cut, Prigione said. But depending on the lineup, a two-hour wait was customary.

“Now that we’ve got Squire, a lot of guys are saying they feel like the process is better because they don't have to pack a lunch and bring it while they’re waiting,” he said.

“They can just book an appointment and know they’re going to get served around that time.”

He’s managed to blend the craftsmanship and style of the trade with modern convenience, a pairing that so far, Prigione said, customers have appreciated.

“Customers become almost like buddies,” he said. “That's what they're looking for, somebody who you can get a haircut from, and talk a little bit.”

It’s a vibe that comes naturally to Prigione. After a short career in sales, Prigione returned to the shop where he logged his first hours as a barber’s assistant.

Something about the experience – the camaraderie, maybe, or the easy atmosphere and conversations between barber and customers – drew him back.

“I grew up here, and I worked here,” Prigione said. “And I just kind of realized, going to get my haircut and spending time at Freddy’s was a highlight of my week.”

Prigione learned the trade, studying at Guelph’s La Luma academy, and says “as a barber, it’s important to always be learning.”

His stops include a 3-day workshop in the Netherlands – mullets aren’t big in Rotterdam, Prigione comments – along the way.

Prigione’s also worked alongside some of Guelph’s other old-school barbers, like those at Franco’s, a downtown Guelph establishment – and learned a lot from his mentors in the industry.

“Franco’s was a big part of my career, too, and I had a blast working with all of them there.”

In August, 2021, Prigione officially took over Freddy’s from longtime owner and local legend Freddy Veri, who died in 2017. Vicki Veri, the late Freddy’s wife, had been operating the shop for several years and was a big help in getting Prigione set up.

She still runs Freddy’s Hairstyling, the salon next door, and Prigione said he’s not afraid to stop by to ask Vicki for assistance.

“We have a pretty good relationship,” Prigione said. “We keep in touch, make sure there’s no big issues or anything, and she's always there if I need to just ask a question about anything.”

“It's nice to have that kind of support, as well. If you ever have a question, I know I can call them and ask.”

Freddy’s originals are still in the neighbourhood and stop by from time to time, Prigione said.

“Some of the retired guys who worked here are still popping in to see their old customers and have a chat,” Prigione said, saying that retired barber Ed Veri still stops by once in a while.

And Benny Carbone, who worked at Freddy’s for over 50 years before retiring, also stops by to check on things, Prigione said, adding that he enjoys getting advice from the veterans.

“I like to joke when people ask, ‘have you seen Benny?’,” Prigione said. “I say, ‘yeah, he’s here so often it's like he never left.’”

In that respect, Freddy’s acts like a community meeting place of sorts, a place where people can catch up on the latest, or reconnect with old friends. It’s also a great location to meet new faces, or discover what’s happening in town.

And when you visit Freddy’s, don’t forget to add your business card to the corkboard hanging on the wall. It’s a small, community-orientated gesture to show entrepreneurs that we’re all in this together, Prigione said.

Sort of like how things were done in the old days.

Despite his attachment to the legacy of the past, Prigione said one of the keys to his success is keeping abreast of the latest styles and trends.

And to help him with that, he’s hired a staff that embodies the eclectic nature of the modern aesthetic.

That includes Herman Matsiah, originally from Belarus, who’s been working as a barber at Freddy’s since 2016.

Prigione said Matsiah brings incredible ideas to the chair, and he’s constantly impressed by his unique approach.

“He’s very creative,” Prigione said. “Especially when putting a design in someone’s hair.”

There’s also Michelle Berezowsky, a recent addition to the team, who first sharpened her blades in Toronto’s fashion scene before spending time in Ottawa.

“She’s so versatile,” Prigione said. “A great barber, and great with people.”

One of her specialties is the fade haircut– a short, shaved style where the hair is gradually tapered down the neck– and Prigione said she is great at giving classic cuts, as well.

There’s also some more international flair on the team. The longest-serving barber at Freddy’s is Gerrit Grift, is a classically-trained barber from the Netherlands.

“Gerrit’s known for precision cuts, friendly conversation, and razor-sharp wit.”

Added to that veteran presence is Sarah Stone, the newest member on Freddy’s staff, Prigione said.

“She’s been with us for a few months now,” Prigione said. “And she has been awesome.”

“Sarah’s very good with the fades and even with the little trendy designs, I guess you could say.”

She’s also learning the particular skill of straight shaving, which Prigione said is a service they hope to be offering more often in the near future.

Dominic Clementi rounds out the team, being part of Freddy’s since 2001. Originally from Abruzzi, Italy, Clementi learned the trade in Toronto, and has been working in Guelph since 1974.

Clementi also brings a particular skill synonymous with the barber trade – “Dominic is a master at straight shaving,” Prigione said.

Ready for a cut at Freddy’s? You can book an appointment via Squire, or call the barber shop at (519) 821-3111.