Scala Barber

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

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.

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  • Reply Richard lindsley December 22, 2017 at 10:45 am

    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.

    • Reply 2summers December 22, 2017 at 10:48 am

      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.

      • Reply Pieter Beneke March 13, 2018 at 4:49 pm

        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.

        • Reply 2summers March 13, 2018 at 4:57 pm

          A slum environment?! I strenuously disagree.

          • Pieter Beneke March 14, 2018 at 4:18 pm

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

  • Reply Richard lindsley December 22, 2017 at 10:59 am

    I hope so ! Thank you for all
    Happy holidays

  • Reply eremophila December 22, 2017 at 11:17 am

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

    • Reply 2summers December 22, 2017 at 11:23 am

      He did say he has some female customers 🙂

  • Reply violetonlineisonline December 22, 2017 at 4:43 pm

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

  • Reply Brenda R December 22, 2017 at 7:11 pm

    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.

    • Reply 2summers December 22, 2017 at 7:13 pm

      Haha, that’s awesome.

  • Reply autumnashbough December 23, 2017 at 1:22 am

    Fred does look scary.

    • Reply 2summers December 23, 2017 at 7:16 am

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

  • Reply Jeroen December 24, 2017 at 8:10 pm

    I had my first Joburg haircut there in 2009, classic place. Ever watch the “7de Laan” soap series on TV? Scala features in the intro:

    • Reply 2summers December 24, 2017 at 9:42 pm

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

  • Reply Rebecca January 2, 2018 at 9:49 pm

    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.

    • Reply 2summers January 3, 2018 at 2:48 pm

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

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