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Cutting it close! Brooklyn barber packing in the pole after six decades

2019-06-16

Barber Jack Skolnick is pictured in his barbershop on Brighton Beach Avenue in Brooklyn on Friday. (Gardiner Anderson/for New York Daily News)

It is the unkindest cut of all — a beloved barber is hanging up his scissors after serving the famous and anonymous alike for nearly 60 years in Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach.

Jack Skolnick, 76, who has sheared the hair and whiskers of tens of thousands in this seaside enclave since 1964, is at last closing his eponymous shop at 1139 Brighton Beach Ave., in grudging acknowledgement to his advancing years.

It is not a case of hair today and gone tomorrow, but something close: Jack’s Barber Shop’s last day will be June 29, with the premises poised to transition into a karate studio.

“I miss it already,” Skolnick says of his work. “I feel like I’ve lost a friend. The neighborhood was very good to me and I hope I was good to the neighborhood.

“I’ve cut three or four generations of hair for some of my customers and I’m sad to say goodbye.”

Barber Jack Skolnick is pictured at his barbershop on Friday.
Barber Jack Skolnick is pictured at his barbershop on Friday. (Gardiner Anderson/for New York Daily News)

His loyal customers are both mournful and wistful.

“He’s one of the last of the Mohicans,” insisted retired Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Alan Marrus, 73, a resident of nearby Manhattan Beach, who stopped in for a regular trim on Friday, with his dog Charlie in tow.

“How many old-school barbers with the rotating barber poles outside are there left? It’s a traditional barbershop where customers can sit around and talk about sports or gossip,” the retired jurist noted.

Jack Skolnick (top, center) is pictured in a 1956 yearbook photo from PS 225 on the wall of his barbershop on Brighton Beach Avenue in Brooklyn.
Jack Skolnick (top, center) is pictured in a 1956 yearbook photo from PS 225 on the wall of his barbershop on Brighton Beach Avenue in Brooklyn. (Gardiner Anderson/for New York Daily News)

Another crestfallen customer is a neighborhood legislator, New York State Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz, 65.

“This is something I‘ve been thinking about for months now, knowing that he’s going to be leaving soon,” said Cymbrowitz, who has been a regular customer for nearly 40 years.

For Cymbrowitz, the prospect of being barber-less is not akin to a constitutional crisis in Albany, but his consternation is no less palpable, it would seem.

“When he started cutting my hair, I had a lot more of it and it was darker, but I’m not sure how, or whom I’m going to entrust to cut my hair when he retires,” he confessed.

Skolnick washes a customer's hair Friday in his barbershop.
Skolnick washes a customer's hair Friday in his barbershop. (Gardiner Anderson/for New York Daily News)

Skolnick’s life has been quite the Brighton Beach memoir.

He first learned how to cut hair at Metropolitan Vocational High School, a now defunct trade school near the Al Smith Houses, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. When he graduated at age 17, he got a barber’s apprentice license and he enlisted in the U.S. Army the following year, he recalled.

By the time he was discharged from the military at 21, he’d become a New York State licensed “master barber” and in 1964, he secured a vacant barber shop on Brighton 13th St., several blocks from his current site. Back then, he paid $75-a-month rent, charged $1 for a haircut and 75 cents for a hot shave, he said.

He now charges $12 to $16 for a cut and $12 for a shave.

When he first began, it seemed like an inauspicious time to start a barbering business.

Jack Skolnick is pictured at his barbershop on Brighton Beach Avenue in Brooklyn.
Jack Skolnick is pictured at his barbershop on Brighton Beach Avenue in Brooklyn. (Gardiner Anderson/for New York Daily News)

The Beatles’ mop-top hairdos were becoming quite the rage and were beginning to usurp the quintessential “flat top” crewcuts that were popular for men through much of the 1950s and early 1960s. This meant that younger men were waiting longer between haircuts. Worse, more young guys began sporting beards, making hot shaves less popular.

Skolnick persevered and wound up operating at a three neighborhood sites during his 55-year run, vacating only when a landlord hiked his rent to more than he wished to pay.

Jack Skolnick will be retiring his flat razor, comb and scissors.
Jack Skolnick will be retiring his flat razor, comb and scissors. (Gardiner Anderson/for New York Daily News)

He’s hardly slowed down since, working 11 hours daily, from 7 a.m. through 6 p.m., five days a week, 50 weeks yearly, taking only two weeks vacation in August. It’s an arduous schedule for a far younger man, much less someone nearing 80.

Skolnick, a diehard Yankee fan, is married to Linda, a special education teacher and has two adult daughters, Lisa and Kimberly. In addition to planning to spend more time with his wife, his kids and his three granddaughters, ages 25, 20 and 12, he also plans to take formal art classes for the first time.

“It runs in the family,” he joked, speaking of his own self-taught artistic skills, noting how his nephew, Arnold Skolnick, created the iconic 1969 Woodstock poster that features a white dove perched upon the neck of an acoustic guitar.