Alfredo Santantonio, a master barber at Colonial Barbers in Shawsheen Plaza, says it was his wife who motivated him to leave his barbershop in Italy behind a half-century ago and come to the U.S. at the age of 20.
The statement drew a reaction from his colleague, apprentice barber Frank Morey, as he walked by.
”Love, love!” Morey exclaimed, patting Santantonio on the shoulder. “Say it.”
It’s the kind of good-natured moment that fills Colonial Barbers daily with warmth.
In today’s world, where barbershops compete with franchises “going up all over the place,” owner Paul Medolo said Colonial is rooted in the traditional feel of the old-time barbershop.
When Sam Reitano, the barbershop’s second owner in nearly 100 years of cuts and conversations, passed away in June 2011 at the age of 78, Medolo saw a challenge — and a chance — to continue the business’ tradition with some new blood and the support of a retired barber from Lawrence.
Reitano ran the barbershop for 42 years before selling it to Medolo in 2006. But Reitano stayed on after the sale, simply scaling back his involvement until he was stricken with cancer.
With Reitano’s health in decline, Medolo said a mutual friend came in one day and he started talking about how he was going to miss his mentor and what would become of the shop after his passing.
”He was looking at me and he said, ‘I know someone,’” Medolo recalled.
That someone was an Italian-born master barber named Alfredo.
A decade younger than Reitano, Santantonio had owned and operated a barbershop in Lawrence for decades after coming to the U.S. About 18 years ago, he had closed the shop and retired.
But in tribute to Reitano’s “extremely cordial, friendly, happy” attitude, Santantonio was convinced to pick up the sheers once again.