It’s easy to walk right past University Barber Shop without noticing it. The shop, in the basement level of 728 Commonwealth Avenue, is recognizable only by the modest red sign over its front door (and of course, the traditional iconic barber pole). But for nearly a century, barbers here have been cutting the hair of BU students, faculty, and staff. Some customers have been coming in for 50 years. Step inside and you’ll immediately feel at home. No appointments are necessary—just walk in and wait your turn. Oh, and leave the credit cards at home. It’s a cash-only establishment. And at just $20 for a haircut, University Barber may offer one of the best values anywhere in Boston.
How long the shop’s been known as University Barber Shop is lost in the mists of history, but it’s been a barbershop since the 1920s (the chairs date back to 1909). It’s now owned by Rino DeStefano, who took over from his father, Rocco, when he retired about a decade ago. The son says his dad taught him everything he knows about being a barber and running your own business. Rino considers it a badge of honor that his father’s clients still trust him to cut their hair, and he says his closest friends today began as clients.
Given its situation at the corner of Comm Ave and St. Mary’s Street, it’s not surprising that most customers are members of the BU community. Students, faculty, and staff (including a large number of Facilities workers and BUPD officers) are drawn to the shop by the excellent service and great prices. Some clients stop by on a weekly basis. Even the late John Silber (Hon.’95), BU president from 1971 to 1996, was a loyal fan. Rino says that the last few times he cut Silber’s hair, it was in Silber’s kitchen. Yes, this is a barber who makes house calls for special customers.
“There’re always trendsetters out there who start these new styles, whether it’s a musician or an athlete, and you’ve got to learn it whether you like it or not,” Rino says with a laugh. “And you have to get good at it.”
What makes for a good barber? Rino says it starts with having a passion for what you do. To be successful, a barber has to “be friendly, professional, and really know how to listen and give the customer the hairstyle they want.”
He takes pride in his work and in the shop’s legion of happy customers.
“A haircut goes a long way. When customers get out of here and they’re looking good, they’re feeling good, they go into situations with more confidence. They have a better weekend.”
Bill Politis can be reached at [email protected].