Thursday, May 17, 2018

Barbers of Schenectady

Something that surprised us recently, there were over 100 barbers in 1925 Schenectady. Men would frequent barbershops weekly, sometimes daily to get a shave. Barbers in Schenectady got up close and personal with some of the most prominent people in Schenectady and in some cases, formed close friendships. The popularity of barbershops declined throughout the 1960s (with longer hair being popular) and into the early-2000s. With beards and more complex haircuts being more fashionable, there has been an increase in the popularity of barber shops throughout the U.S.

The list of barbershops in the 1925 Schenectady Directory. Note that the Wedgeway Barber Shop is still in business and is one of Schenectady's longest running businesses. It was established in April 1912 in The Wedgeway Building at the corner of State and Erie and tonsorial artistry is still practiced in the same room. In a letter to Larry Hart, owner Richard DiCristofaro wrote that "many civic leaders, judges, attorneys, clerks, and notable business persons" used their services.

The interior of Schmidt's Barber Shop shows customers getting a quick cut and shave. This photo is undated, but August Schmidt's shop was listed in city directories as early as 1881 and possibly even earlier. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Photo Collection.
In addition to running a barber shop, August Schmidt also dealt thoroughbred canaries. 
Luxury Barber Shop at 104 Clinton caught on to the hair bobbing craze of the flappers. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Photo Collection.
Speaking of bobs, the NRA (National Recovery Administration, not the National Rifle Association) set the prices for hairdressing. Courtesy of
The Carley House was built by Andrew Devendorf on the corner of Broadway and State. It would eventually become the Hotel Vendome. William Young's barber shop, complete with barber pole, can be seen on the left side of the building. 

A nice interior shot of Tilly's Barber Shop lit by GE Mazda Lamps. Attilio Mengarelli was known as "Tilly" to friends and customers. Tilly's started out in 1905 in the Mohawk Hotel & Baths on Broadway. He moved his shop to the newly built railroad arcade in 1909 when Union Station was built. Tilly's had the most modern equipment and GE Mazda lights. 
An ad introducing barbers Edward Tario and Henry Froehlig as partners in Tilly's. Henry would go on to take ownership of  Tilly's in 1922. 
An action shot of a barber on South Ferry Street, possibly at John Friday's barber shop.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Mastroianni Brothers Bakery

Founded in 1923 by brothers Peter, Dominic, Mario, Gurino, Carmen, John, Armand, and Pasquale Mastroianni, the Mastroianni Brothers Bakery was a staple of local life in Schenectady County. We recently sat down with Josephine Mastroianni Parchetta, the daughter of Dominic Mastroianni to talk about some of her memories of her family and of the bakery. 
The Mastroianni Bros. Bakery can be seen today on Mohawk Ave. in Schenectady. Courtesy of Google Maps.
Dominic Mastroianni, didn’t start out as a baker, but as a boxer. He was the lightweight champion of the Capitol District and even fought at Madison Square Garden. An ad touted Dominic’s boxing skills stating that he, “Possesses a wicked sock in either hand and is blessed with marvelous stamina and endurance.” Eventually, Dominic’s father said that he was needed to come home to work in the family's bakery, and as Josephine says “you don’t say ‘no’ in an Italian family." So, Dominic became a baker. Dominic couldn’t stay away from boxing though, and started a boys club called Graymoor where he trained kids to box.
Photo of Dominick Mastroianni. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library & Archives.

Grandpa and Tony in front
of the delivery truck.
 Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle
Library & Archives.
Josephine’s grandparents were Italian immigrants who came to America around the turn of the century. They were grocers, had 8 sons and 2 daughters, and lived at 313 Front Street. As the family and business expanded, they built an apartment house next door to the bakery on Mohawk Ave in Schenectady, right off of Front Street. Josephine would grow up in the house on Mohawk Ave. which was divided into four apartments for the brothers. The family was extremely close and during family gatherings, the women would go into one room and the men in another and the women would usually speak in Italian and the men would talk about politics.

Uncle Cuddy Geurino taking bread out of the pans.
Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library & Archives.
The bakery was the idea of Josephine’s uncle Peter who felt responsibility to help his family. At the age of 26, he came up with the idea to start an Italian bakery. The whole family would get involved with the bakery and the brothers would deliver bread and work in the bakery. Josephine’s grandmother, also named Josephine, was the bookkeeper and would count the money. Josephine remembers everyone working extremely hard to keep the business going and provide for their family. Josephine remembers her family being very charitable, often giving out free bread for ALCO employees who would often play baseball near their house on Front Street. They would give bread to nuns at St. Anthony’s Church as well as pizza for St. Anthony’s parade.

Uncle Mario, Uncle Armand Mastroianni (in uniform) and Tony during World War II.
Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library & Archives.
The old REO Speedwagon. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library & Archives.

Dominic Mastroianni in front of the oven in the bakery.

Josephine remembers a lot changing during and after World War II. She states that many of the sons of local families were in the service and that their family would have gold star flags hanging in the windows. One memory that really sticks out is walking home from the Plaza Theater when a train went by filled with young men going off to the war. Many of Josephine’s uncles and cousins were in the service and Sudsy Tiscione, her mother’s brother, was the first in the area to receive the Purple Heart. During WWII, production at ALCO was in full swing and tanks would drive right down Front Street. Life during the war was very tough for the family. Meat and sugar was rationed and they had to paint the windows of the bakery black. Josephine and her brother and cousins would have to walk to school, no matter what the weather was like. In the winter, she would arrive covered in snow with frozen hands and faces.

Dominic holding his son Anthony along with his daughter Josephine and niece Antonia.
Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library & Archives.

Tony Mastroianni and the one cars used by the 8 Mastroianni brothers.
Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library & Archives.
The bakery continued to be a staple in Schenectady County and the company stayed within the Mastroianni family until Armond Mastroianni died in 2008. Josephine remembers her family and the bakery fondly and is very proud of her family’s business and the legacy they left.