By John Loftus

Times Staff Writer

Lorenzo Della Valle has seen more than hairstyles change during the decades he's been in business.

After all, John F. Kennedy was president when Della Valle opened his barbershop on the 4800 block of Frankford Ave. There was only one phone company. The space program was in its infancy. There were no cell phones, home computers, CDs, MP3s or HD TVs. All the rock stations were on the AM band, not the FM. Al Gore hadn't invented the Internet, and Casey Stengel had yet to ask the hapless Mets if any of them actually knew how to play the game.

In the 50 years that Della Valle has been operating, he has gone from being a hair cutter to a hair stylist; from regularly shaving customers to shaving no one. In those decades, nine other presidents have been in the White House, and the Phillies won two World Series. William Penn's statue atop City Hall ceased being the tallest point in Philadelphia. Cassette players and VCRs became the rage and then faded away.

People disappeared, too. Because so many Philadelphians packed up for the suburbs, the city's population fell by about a half-million.

Some are returning, Della Valle said last week during an interview at his brightly lighted shop, Hair Styles by Lorenzo.

"Some customers I haven't seen for twenty years," he said. "They moved to Bucks County, but they came back."

Those returnees give Della Valle hope for continued neighborhood improvement.

"I don't look back," he said. "I look forward."

If asked, however, he'll talk about Frankford Avenue's heyday. He has seen changing trends in the kinds of businesses that operate on the avenue. For example, there used to be many more clothing stores.

He has seen some odd behavior over the years, too. Now and then, people stop in front of the church across from his shop, pray, and then talk very loudly to no one in particular, or just to no one.

Like most other Frankford Avenue business owners, he would like to see fewer parking tickets issued. Della Valle also thinks the city should tear down some vacant properties and replace them with parking lots.

"Tickets drive business away," he said.

Della Valle's business has seen its own trends, some of which continue. He smiles while describing his place as the original unisex barbershop. Seventy-five percent of his customers continue to be women, he said.

"Just cut and style," he said, adding that he doesn't do any coloring.

And he's seen some unusual, maybe outlandish, hairstyles. The most non-traditional — as well as the most difficult to achieve — has been spiked hair, Della Valle said.

Just the same, he keeps up with the changes.

"I'm old," he said, "but I'm up to date with styles."

There's no doubt that Della Valle is proud of his longevity in the business and his years on Frankford Avenue.

"I'm glad to serve for fifty years," he said, "and I appreciate my customers' loyalty."

It used to be that Della Valle would see some of his regular customers every month for a shave and a haircut, but he no longer gives anyone a shave. Fears of transmitting the AIDS virus, something unheard of when he got his start, had prompted state regulations that require use of disposable razors, not the old-fashioned belt-sharpened straight razors long associated with a barbershop shave, so he just stopped offering them.

Like many barbers, Della Valle, 72, is ready with a joke. Raising his eyes toward his own well-diminished hairline, he said bald people have to pay more for their cuts.

With less hair to work with, he said, "I can't afford to make mistakes."

Hair Styles by Lorenzo, 4848 Frankford Ave., is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday (closed Sunday). Call 215-743-9685.

Reporter John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 r jloftus@bsmphilly.com