Sweet Spot With Mike Sugerman: Inside NYC's Subterranean Haircutting Factory

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By WCBS Newsradio 880

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Labor Department figures show there are about 19,000 licensed barbers in the United States, but very few like the ones you’ll find at one New York City shop. 

Valentino Gogu, 72, has been cutting hair at the same chair at Astor Place Hairstylists almost since the day he arrived from a Romanian concentration camp almost 40 years ago.

"I work and I sleep, but I like to work," said Gogu, who works seven days a week.

He would be the most interesting barber in this shop, if it wasn't this shop, Mike Sugerman says in this week's Sweet Spot.

"I think we topped out at 123 barbers at one time," said John Vessa, third generation owner of the East Village institution. He now oversees about half that number in this subterranean haircutting factory that's been in business since the 1940s.

"We've had up to up to two, three hour waits," said Vessa.

The buzz really started in the 1970s after a lull that almost closed the place thanks to a trend started by some rockers from across the pond.

"My father hated the Beatles cause they started long hair. He was a barber, he was the only person who hated the Beatles," said Vessa.

While it was a close shave, once disco, new wave and punk came into fashion, there was plenty of styling, coloring and chemical work to keep them busy. 

"If we saw a blank wall we put a mirror and a chair and an outlet there and put a barber there," Vessa said.  

You can tell a barber at the shop what kind of cut you want in 13 different languages. 

And you never know who you'll see in here. They've cut hair for the likes of Mayor Bill de Blasio, Spike Lee, Kevin Bacon, Matt Dillon, Adam Sandler and even Robert De Niro.

Sugerman got his hair done and while he didn't make the wall, he got a great cut for $18, plus tip, but he didn't leave the one like actor Bruce Willis, who once came to get his ears plucked and a cut.

"He gave her a $50 bill, I think he tipped the barber $100," Vessa said.