Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 30
 
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
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BARBER SHOP TRIO: “We have a lot of customers, and they often know each other. It’s a real mix of people — Princeton University professors, people who work on Witherspoon Street, fathers and sons, and kids and friends. They all get together here.” Owner Irena Wolinski (right) is joined by the other barbers at Continental Barber Shop, Monica Wolinski and Aliya Verlasevic.

Continental Barber Shop on Witherspoon Street Has Been a Princeton Landmark for Over 50 Years

It was a hot July morning when Brian Garner stepped into the Continental Barber Shop at 38 Witherspoon Street. A student of molecular biology from Miami, he is an intern at Princeton University for the summer, and will return later for doctoral study.

Princeton’s unyielding heat and humidity persuaded him to get a haircut. As he says, “It’s very hot in Princeton. I think it’s even hotter here than in Miami, so I’m getting a crew cut. I want my hair very short.”

He had come to the right place. One of the barbers, Aliya Verlasevic, quickly produced clippers and scissors, went to work capably and confidently, and in less than a half-hour, Brian walked out the door, well-shorn, cool, and comfortable.

Continental Barber Shop has been providing hair cuts for Princeton residents and visitors for more than 50 years, says current owner Irena Wolinski, who bought the shop nine years ago. “This was a good business, and I saw an opportunity to have my own place,” she adds.

Night and Day

A licensed cosmetologist, Ms Wolinski came to the U.S. from Poland in 1971. She became a stylist at La Jolie salon, working there for 25 years. Although she liked the salon experience, the lure of having her own business was irresistible. She is delighted with that decision, and enjoys cutting men’s and boys’ hair; she’s a real fan of the guys.

“It’s like night and day! Cutting men’s hair is much easier. They are always happy and never complain. There are no ‘issues’. At first, when I took over, some customers were expecting a male barber. But they’re happy, and we have a lot of regular customers. Many people like to talk, and they’ll tell me what they’ve been doing, about family vacations, etc.

“Some customers have really become friends,” she continues. “We know their names and their families. Dads come in with their sons, and we see people of all ages — from one and a half to 90! Moms will bring in their children for their first hair cut. Then, the mom wants a lock of the hair to take home and save.”

Shorter hair is popular, especially with boys in the summer, she reports. “Sometimes, young guys will want their hair longer, and then there can be some styling, but mostly shorter is popular now.”

No Appointments

No appointments are necessary, and people just walk in, often early before going to work, notes Ms. Wolinski. Saturdays are often busy, and also late August and September when kids are going back to school.

Ms. Wolinski’s daughter Monica joined the staff a few years ago, and Mr. Verlasevic has been with Continental Barber Shop for eight years. Originally from Croatia, where he had his own barber shop, he explains that he has been in the barbering business for 27 years. “I also worked in Germany and then Virginia before coming to Princeton.”

There are not as many barber shops today as there once were. The tumultuous decade of the 1960s caused a transformation in male hairstyles, as in so many other areas.

Indeed, the barber shop — with its signature striped pole — has undergone transformations from its earliest days. In addition to cutting hair, in medieval times, barbers performed surgery and extracted teeth! The original pole had a bronze basin at the top (representing the vessel in which leeches were kept for blood-letting) and another at the bottom (symbolizing the basin that collected the blood). The pole itself represented the staff that the patients held onto during the procedure to promote blood flow.

Other Theories

The famous red, white and blue stripes on the pole in front of U.S. barber shops may represent the colors of the American flag. Other theories suggest that the red and white stripes symbolized the bandages used during a procedure: red for blood-stained and white for clean bandages. Originally, these bandages may have been wrapped around a pole to dry.

Not every profession can boast of such an intriguing background, and Ms. Wolinski is pleased to be part of such a history.

“I enjoy having my own place and being independent,” she says. “And it’s nice that the business has been able to continue for so many years. People know they can count on us for good work. We give each customer the best hair cut.”

Prices at the shop include $29 for a man or boy’s hair cut, and $45 for the occasional female client.

The shop is open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday 8 to 4. (609) 924-4225.

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