One after another.
Snip by snip and cut after cut.
Long hair. Short hair. Flattops. Hipster flips. He’s seen it, he’s cut it, and he’s swept up our hair.
Children and adults. First cuts and final cuts – and he has a few customers who have only had Frank Scenna holding the scissors while they rest in the hydraulic chair.
The owner of Frank’s Hairquarters on Edgington Lane still reports to the same shop at the same times he has for the past 55 years, and that’s only because he accepted some brotherly advice from his sibling, Al.
“I got into this profession because I didn’t want to go to college for four or five years,” Scenna admitted. “And my brother talked me into it because he was already a barber in Elm Grove. He told me if I went to school to be a barber, I would have a trade to fall back on even if I decided not to do it.
“I thought it sounded good, and it only took me a year-and-a-half to get through the school. It was six days a week and eight hours a day, but I got through it quick, and I figured it out,” he continued. “I got out of that school on March 9, 1960, and started working here the very next day. Been right here ever since.
“I was lucky to get a job back here that quickly, and it’s been a good spot for me,” the 1959 Warwood High graduate said. “I’m a barber. That’s what I am, and that’s good enough. I do some styling for the men and some razor cuts, but I’m still a barber.”
Since 1960, though, the Wheeling area has lost many manufacturing operations, and the result has been a population decline. Scenna’s business, he said, has not realized the impact. For his first haircut he charged $1.50, and these days a regular snip is $12, and a trim with styling ranges from $17 to $20.
“I don’t know if it’s had an impact because we’re still busy,” he said. “But with this business, though, there’s a lot of customers for the few male barbers who are left in Wheeling. There’s not many of us anymore.
“Let me put it this way. I take a lunch every day, but it’s only a half-hour. An hour is too long. I’d lose a cut if I took an hour, and by now that has probably made a difference with the amount of money I have made in this business,” Scenna said. “Plus, if I took an hour, I might want to take a nap.”
Frank’s Hairquarters is not a large space, and some of Scenna’s equipment has been in place since the 1980s. He owns the “If it ain’t broke” when it comes to the old hair dryer, his scissors, hair tonic, and what makes a flattop stand up best. The work ethic has allowed him to collect a client base that’s often lifelong, from that little boy’s first cut to a man’s last.
“It’s hard to say how many customers I have today who I cut when they were children, but there are more than a few of them who still come in here,” Scenna explained. “And I still cut kids and give them the first-cut certificates, but I don’t know if ‘enjoy’ is the right word to describe it.
“But these days I’ll turn on a cartoon, and if they get focused on that, it usually goes a lot better. If they watch it instead of paying attention to what I’m doing, it’s a lot easier,” he continued. “I still find it funny when they get out of the chair like it was no big deal after panicking when they first sit down.”
How many haircuts has Frank Scenna completed over a little more than 55 years? He couldn’t care less.
“I don’t know, and I don’t want to know,” Scenna said. “I had a friend who was also a barber, and he used to keep count on a daily basis. And then he would look at past years and compare the numbers. When he would see a decrease, he would get all worried about it.
“I’m never going to do that. I do one at a time, do the best I can do, and then move on to the next one. And I stay pretty busy. It’s not every day when I have them every half hour, but there’s a lot of days like it is today. Pretty steady.”
He admits he hears more news from those who sit in his chair than he reads in the daily newspaper or hears on television. When asked if he could report what he knows, this father of five said it would take far too long.
“I hear a fair amount of gossip, and I hear some versions of some stories that are proven untrue,” Scenna said. “There have been quite a few times when I have seen the newspaper the next day after hearing about something from someone in this chair, but we don’t have enough time left in our lives for me to tell you everything.
“The best part about this profession, really, is that every day is a different day because of the different people coming in,” he said. “It is also a way for me to keep up on everything from families to the news. Yeah, being a barber has been a pretty good thing in my life.”
Scenna says he likes what he has seen taking place in Wheeling during the past decade, and he understands why many people are pushing for the redevelopment of the downtown district. With that said, this barber insists he also has been impressed with what has taken place near the corner of Edgington Lane and Carmel Road.
“I see good signs here in Wheeling,” Scenna said. “Kalkrueth has grown, and they bought the Riley Building and did a great job fixing that up. McKinley bought the building where the Fort Henry Club was, and that would have been torn down if he didn’t do that. He’s a doer.
“That’s all good stuff, and that’s what we need. Things like that bring more people to Wheeling. The more we get downtown, it’ll lead to even more. At one time I bet we had close to 60,000 people in Wheeling, and now I know we’re just below 30,000.
“It’s a nice neighborhood, and there are a lot of businesses around here. There’s been a lot of change, but the buildings are full of others,” he said. “We have a little bit of everything. The Alpha is still going strong, and we have Miklas Meat Market, and Dave Rotriga has done very well. He’s tripled that business. But, of course, everyone misses the Minute Market. Everyone I talk to remembers the Minute Market.”
The shop is open from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Saturdays. After those 48 hours, he rests on Sundays and Mondays, and it’s been the same schedule for the past 55 years. AND Frank is 73 years old. But if you ask Frank Scenna, the math doesn’t add up.
Instead, he says, Frank’s Hairquarters will remain open while this barber can still stand.
“I don’t think I could do this sitting down, do you? I don’t think that would work out very well for the guy under the scissors,” Scenna said. “But I don’t know how much longer I’ll keep cutting because it all depends on my health. As long as I feel good, I’ll be here. I’m 73 today, and I had heart surgery in 2005. It was a bypass. You know, I don’t do the small things.
“But six weeks later I was right back here cutting hair. I missed it. I really did,” he continued. “During those six weeks I kept thinking about how people retire because that time off was really boring for me. I wasn’t allowed to do a whole lot except walk, and I missed all of the conversations that I have with people every day.”
Scenna may adore his profession, but the “barber” has become an endangered species around America the past couple of decades. These days, salons are the rage, and even the manliest of men pass on the clippers and straight-edge razor treatment in favor of the more pampered approach.
“We’re a dying breed, and that’s because it takes a while to build up a business. Plus, there are no benefits and you have to do it all yourself. And the hours are long if you do this the right way,” Scenna continued. “Today the younger people want everything now, and in this business it usually doesn’t happen that way.
“But it’s been a good deal for me all through the years, and I don’t recall any really bad years, even when the long hair came into style,” he said. “Hairstyles come and go. They change. But the scissors always work the same way.”
(Photos by Steve Novotney)