Kevin Riordan: A new cut at a Camden barbershop with a long history

Albert Ferrante's father, Vincent, opened the barber shop on 537 Market Street in Camden nearly 100 years ago. ( Richard Kauffman / Staff Photographer )

Having cut hair in downtown Camden for six decades, Albert Ferrante isn't quite ready to hang up his scissors.

He'll keep seeing private clients after a younger stylist named Lucy Jimenez starts renting the landmark tonsorial parlor with the working barber pole on Market Street.

The high-ceilinged shop is named for Ferrante's father, Vincent, who worked there until a day or two before he died in 1984.

"He would like the fact that the shop is going to be full time again," says Ferrante, 73, who has been open only a few hours a week in recent years.

His dad bought the business in the 1920s. Located on the first floor of a three-story building rumored to have been a stagecoach stop, it featured mirrors imported from Germany, wicker chairs woven in Camden (they're still quite comfortable), and shelves for the shaving mugs of prominent customers.

The family lived in the rear.

"I was about 10 when my dad started to teach me," Ferrante recalls. "It was a professional barbershop, and the rules were very strict. There was no bawdy talk. He would ask you to leave. And if you took a number, if you gambled, you were fired on the spot."

Rules aside, Vincent's was hardly a sedate place.

As a joke, "one time a couple of detectives handcuffed me to the chair," Ferrante says. "They told me they couldn't find the key."

Another time he got a $100 tip from Stewart Hollingshead, the millionaire owner of a Camden chemical company. "My father took it and said, 'You'll just spend it,' " Ferrante recalls.

And when he began working full time in the 1950s, after attending barber school in Philadelphia, the shop was where big shots got their flattops, crew cuts, and a style named for TV detective Peter Gunn that became all the rage.

"I was fast, and I was good. . . . I won some prizes for my flattops," Ferrante recalls. "We had a lot of politicians, CEOs, doctors, lawyers, priests in here. I used to cut Mayor [George] Brunner's hair."

Between 35 and 40 customers, all men, would fill the seats on a busy day.

"You had to be fast," Ferrante says. "You had to shave a man in seven minutes."

Speed and skill were necessary, but personality was essential, too.

"My father told me, 'If you don't like people, you need to get out of this business, because it will kill you,' " Ferrante says. "What I've liked best about it is the people, interesting people from all walks of life."

As businesses closed or left the city, the CEOs who once filled the chairs stopped coming. Downtown was dying, and during the 1971 riots, which erupted nearby, "we stood out front. We didn't want the place destroyed," Ferrante says.

"We knew some of the [rioters]. And when they ran by to break the windows of the bank next door, they said: 'Hey, Al, how are you doing?' "

But he also remembers his father, then 71, "choking on the tear gas." The younger Ferrante moved out of an apartment in the shop to Haddon Heights in 1977.

In recent years, with downtown revitalization still elusive, Ferrante's business has dwindled. "Now I have about a dozen customers, all professional people, who like my work," he says.

Among them is Joseph F. Greene Jr., a retired Superior Court judge who lives in Haddonfield but goes downtown for the same "short haircut" Ferrante started giving him in the 1950s. It now costs him $20, including tip.

Vincent's "was right across the street from the old Camden County courthouse," Greene says. "Al is a good barber, and a fine person."

Jimenez, 44, will begin seeing customers at Vincent's on May 1. A Camden native who has worked at shops all over the city, "I want to have something to pass on for my granddaughter," says Jimenez, who hopes to eventually buy the business outright.

"But for now," she adds, "it's going to stay Vincent's."

That's good news for customers like Greene.

"I'll be there next Friday," he says.


Contact Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845 or, or follow on Twitter @inqkriordan. Read the metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at

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