A Barber Shop That Thrived On Honor

By Danny Schrafel



As Richard Pastore, owner of Oscar’s Barber Shop at 209 Main St. in Northport for the last 52 years, gave his final haircut July 31 and closed the shop for good, there had been much talk about the remarkable prices.

Price, actually.

When he opened his doors in 1962, it cost $3.50 to sit in the chair at Oscar’s for whatever service you sought. Back in ’62, that was a decent chunk of change, but as time – and hairstyles – marched on, Pastore never budged on the price. But at some point, when a $3.50 haircut became an absolute steal, one could argue the business evolved into one run on the “honor system.” With the price so low, customers were essentially given the discretion to pay the price they felt was right. After a haircut, they left bills for Pastore, in plain sight, on the counter behind him.

“See this money on the table? This is how I get paid,” he said, pointing back to a pile of bills on the counter. On his final day, there were 10s, 20s and a 50 in the pile.

It’s a concept that was used, with much fanfare in Clayton, Mo. at a nonprofit Panera Bread café – now known as Panera Cares – in mid-2010. Panera Cares Cafes do not have prices – instead, they list suggested donation amounts, and in the end, it is up to the customer to decide how much to pay.

Their experience showed that many pay full price, even though they didn’t have to. After a month, Panera executives said that about 60 to 70 percent paid the full “suggested price” indicated by the staff. About 15 percent, they added, paid more than they were asked; about 15 percent paid less or not at all. A handful, however, went above and beyond, such as by paying $20 for a cup of coffee.

Pastore’s customers’ discretionary spending is how he made a living, and at Oscar’s, it worked very well for five decades.

Pastore, 69, has been cutting hair since he was 17. His grandfather, Frank Pastore, was a haircutter in Corona, Queens.

“I liked it, and I wanted to do it,” the younger Pastore said.

Pastore set up shop in Northport in 1962, taking over Oscar’s Barber Shop and keeping the name of the previous owner. He moved to his current location in the late 1980s, after the old building he was in collapsed.

Over the ensuing decades, he became known for his gift of gab, his sleight of hand with scissors and clippers and his mastery of the quick cut.

Brian Cocchi, of Northport, has been a customer for nearly a quarter-century. His son, Brian Jr., now 13, has been going to Oscar’s as soon as he was old enough. He agrees with Pastore’s assessment that his shop is like a neighborhood club.

“You hang out, you talk, your friends are in here. You’re able to have a nice conversation and talk about all different stuff that’s going on. It’s a good time,” he said.

Meanwhile, Northport’s Rosalie Mahrab, an 18-year customer, said she found Pastore after her father, Joe Gassira, retired from the hair-cutting business. After a few tries at beauty parlors, friends pointed her to Pastore, and she’s been getting her hair cut there ever since. So, too, has her daughter, Mindy, when she arrived in the United States at 18 months old after being adopted by the Mahrab family.

Longtime loyalty to Pastore is common, and for good reason, Rosalie said.

 “Not only is Richard the barber, he’s the friend to everybody,” she explained. “He’s a real old-fashioned barber. He’s got the gift of gab. He can talk about everything. He just did what you want.”

“I’ve gone to other places, and they’re silent,” Mindy said. “But here, you have a fun conversation and get a great haircut.”

Now with his final haircut complete, Pastore said it’s time to get out from behind the barber’s chair, take a break and do some traveling – Ireland and Hawaii, in particular.

Pastore will get one final sendoff in September, when he will be the guest of honor at Northport Opera Night Sept. 5, where they’ll perform selections from – what else? – “The Barber of Seville.” The show, at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Northport, is at 7:30 p.m., with a suggested donation of $10 at the door.

It’s just another example of how Northport has always had his back – something for which Pastore will always be grateful.

“The town has always treated me extremely well. The town takes care of me – I don’t take care of the town. That’s really how it is,” he said.