#Gauteng52, Week 51: Scala Barber, the Oldest Shop in Melville

by | Dec 22, 2017 | #Gauteng52, Johannesburg, Melville and Surrounds | 19 comments

Welcome to Week 51 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit Scala Barber, which has been doling out men’s haircuts in Melville for nearly half a century.

It’s the second-to-last week of #Gauteng52 (I can’t believe it), and as the year winds down I want to include one more spot in my own neighborhood.

I’ve walked past Scala Barber countless times over the last seven years, and have been perpetually tempted to go in and chat to the owner. But I always felt intimidated. Barbershops are so…male.

A few weeks ago, Marie-Lais agreed to go with me to Scala and introduce me to Fred the barber. He was much less intimidating than I thought.

Scala BarberScala Barber, on 4th Avenue near the corner of 7th Street. I love the scissor pattern in the security gate.

Inside Scala Barber

Scala stands out from the businesses around it because it is so old-school. It has those real twirly barbershop lights in the windows, although the lights are enclosed in weird plastic boxes. The plastic boxes and the iron security gate at the Scala entrance are the only tip-offs that this is 2017 Johannesburg and not 1977 Johannesburg.

If Fred isn’t cutting hair he is usually standing in the Scala doorway in his white barber’s coat, looking out at the street and sipping a glass of coke.

Fred at Scala BarberFred the barber.

Fred’s father opened Scala Barber in 1969, across the street from where it stands today. The barbershop was named for the Scala bioscope — movie theaters were once called bioscopes in South Africa — which also used to be across the street. (Scala means “ladder” in Italian. I’m not sure how the Melville bioscope got that name.)

Fred worked with his dad as a youth. When the bioscope closed in the 1970s, the father-and-son barbershop moved across 4th Avenue to its current location.

Old school barber chair at Scala BarberOld-school barber chairs at Scala.

Fred has two daughters, and had hoped they would someday join him and turn the barbershop into a unisex salon. Alas, neither daughter is interested in hair.

I asked Fred if he’s ever considered moving Scala to a new location. After all, this Melville corner has changed a lot over the last 49 years. It used to be an old-fashioned high street with a butcher and a baker and a greengrocer. But these days, with the exception of Scala, it’s all restaurants and bars and a smattering of specialty shops.

Fred shook his head. He wouldn’t risk losing his customers.

“When I moved [across the street], I left there on a Saturday and moved in here on a Sunday,” Fred said, pointing toward the old movie theater. “Even so, it took some people two years to find me again.”

Marie-Lais and I sat on the chairs in the waiting area as Fred did two haircuts, one for Earl and one for Gerald. Both men seemed to be longtime customers.

Haircut at ScalaEarl.

Haircut at Scala BarberGerald.

Fred charges R100 (about $7.85) for a haircut. He doesn’t cut long hair like mine, but if I had hair like Gerald’s or Earl’s I’d totally be there.

Scala Barber inside

Scala Barber is at 80 4th Avenue, Melville. Open Monday-Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Saturday from 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Read all of my #Gauteng52 posts and check out the interactive #Gauteng52 map.


  1. Richard lindsley

    I suppose the bioscopy was named after La Scala in Milan ! Called so because of the staircases either side to enter. Is Melville a suburb with an Italian influence ? I lived in Bedfordview mostly and there was a huge Italian community .
    I’ll miss your weeklies like mad !!
    thank you.

    • 2summers

      Oh, that’s interesting! No, I don’t think Melville had a huge Italian influence. It was a mostly Afrikaans suburb back in the day, I think.

      I’ve still got quite a few interesting places that I haven’t been able to fit into #Gauteng52 but still intend to write about. I guess I’ll have a #Gauteng52 overflow series.

      • Pieter Beneke

        Melville wasn’t Afrikaans at all. It is adjacent to Auckland Park, which was VERY British initially. In fact, King George VI and the Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II) had 2 houses in Auckland Park during their visit to South Africa during 1947. That is why the 2 most prominent streets in Auckland Park are still named Kingsway and Empire Road.

        At the time, Auckland Park was posh (hosting the Auckland Park country club) and Melville was on the “wrong side of the track”, where the miners and labourers lived.

        I grew up in Auckland Park during the the sixties and seventies and I frequently had my hair cut at this particular barbershop – schoolboy (e.g. military) style.

        When the SABC and the Rand Afrikaans University (Johannesburg University, these days) were built, Melville became more cosmopolitan with the influx of arty types, and underwent a substantial change of character. Sadly, these days it seems to be developing into almost a slum type of environment.

        • 2summers

          A slum environment?! I strenuously disagree.

          • Pieter Beneke

            By the way, May’s Chemist (Pharmacy) has been around in the same place for even longer than the La Scala.

  2. Richard lindsley

    I hope so ! Thank you for all
    Happy holidays

  3. eremophila

    I guess I’d be right there with my definitely short short hair. 🙂

    • 2summers

      He did say he has some female customers 🙂

  4. violetonlineisonline

    I love this shop.
    It never changes, the Barber never changes, it’s a fabulous constant in Melville.

  5. Brenda R

    When I was a child, we added on to our house in Morningside and the masons were recent Italian immigrants who sang opera all day. No radio! Beautiful work too.

    • 2summers

      Haha, that’s awesome.

    • 2summers

      Hahaha. I suppose he does. No surprise I was intimidated, although he really is very nice.

    • 2summers

      You were there in the early days – only 40 years in! 🙂

  6. Rebecca

    There aren’t a lot of shops like this left in the world! Even in the small country town I grew up in, places like this are closing and being replaced. Great to see he has stuck around and still has his regular customers.

    • 2summers

      Yes, he’s definitely an icon. And it’s sad to think when Fred is gone, that will be the end 🙁

  7. Hendrik Schmidt

    Generally I do not post but feel duty-bound to do so after reading your story about Scala and Fred. I lived in Melville in the 1990’s – on the corner of 5th Ave and 9th street and have cut my hair there numerous times (too many times to remember). Although moving to Cape Town, I still pay him a visit when in Johannesburg. During my stay in Melville and even thereafter, i would have my hair cut just before closing time on a Friday afternoon and order 2 beers from Questionmark (a restaurant which subsequently moved around the corner in 7th Avenue and opened as Full stop but later closed down) as soon as the shop closed. During the 90s his daughters were still at school. His wife unfortunately passed away a few years ago. He is busy writing a book about Melville and it’s stories and is due to be published soon ( I visited him 3 months ago and he was still intent on publishing). As we all know, 7de laan was initially an embodiment of Melville (before changing its intro on TV) and Scala’a inclusion in the previous intro, speaks for itself as a true reflection of Melville and its trendiness (at least before the change). I will always remember Fred and Scala as the embodiment of what Melville was and truly is although it has changed significantly over the years. Thank you.

    • 2summers

      You’re welcome Hendrik! Thank you so much for sharing your experience with Fred.


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