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.
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’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.
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.
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 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.