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.”
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.
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’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.
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.
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.