Tony the barber passes the clippers
By Barbara Taormina
Last weekend, a small crowd of family, friends and fans gathered on the corner of Salem Street and Granville Avenue for a bittersweet celebration. After 55 years of pompadours, buzz cuts, mullets and quiffs, Anthony Cammarata, who most people know as Tony the barber, has retired and passed the clippers and the keys to Tony’s Barber Shop to new owner Berthony Sanon. Cammarata’s family marked the moment with pizza, cake and a bouquet of balloons, and Mayor Gary Christenson stopped in to personally deliver a citation from the city.
“Tony’s barber shop has been a fixture on Salem Street mostly because of Tony’s friendly personality, his passion for his work and his commitment to his customers,” said Christenson, who read from the citation as the Cammarata clan clapped and cheered.
“Malden’s motto is “Strong Past, Proud Future,” and there’s no doubt Tony has made a long-lasting difference in our community,” said Christenson.
Cammarata, who will turn 90 in July, was born in Everett but grew up Malden’s Edgeworth neighborhood. He cut and trimmed hair at a barber shop in Maplewood before opening his own shop on Salem Street back in 1963. Along the way, Cammarata and his wife, Gloria, who many people know as a little lady with a big personality, had five children: Michael, Dean, Paul, Maryann and Patty. The couple raised their family in a home right behind – almost on top – of the shop.
Maryann, who is now Maryann Tkaczuk, said Tony’s Barber Shop was a big part of the Cammaratas’ family life. “As kids, it was our job to sweep up the shop at the end of the day,” she recalled. Tkaczuk and her brothers and sister also regularly ran messages and errands from home to the shop.
“When I was little, we kept our hair short – pixie-style – and my mother would send us down to the shop for haircuts,” said Tkaczuk, who recalled that during one of those visits her dad accidentally nicked her ear.
“I was shy, and I didn’t say a word while I was in the chair,” said Tkaczuk, who did, however, run home immediately after to show her mom the damage.
Cammarata was impressed with his small daughter’s grit, and he often told the story of how she was the shop’s bravest little soldier. “He also swears that during his 55 years as a barber, he never nicked another person’s ear,” laughed Tkaczuk.
While Tony’s Barber Shop was at the center of the Cammaratas’ family life, Tkaczuk said, it was also a focal point of the neighborhood, a place where people would gather and socialize. “It was an old-time shop where people would talk about all the issues of the day while big band music played in the background,” she said. A lot of big chess players were regulars at the shop, where they knew they could always find a good game.”
Tkaczuk said thousands of kids visited Tony’s Barber Shop for their first haircuts. Cammarata used to keep a wall full of photos of those big moments on display.
“Dad would also go to his customers’ homes to cut their hair or give a shave if they were ill or too old to come to him,” said Tkaczuk.
The door to the shop was always open to the homeless and people in the neighborhood struggling with mental illness and other problems. “Dad would minister to them,” said Tkaczuk. “He did what he could. He was very humble, very old-school.”
Although Cammarata’s retirement is a loss to the city, and particularly to the neighborhood, everyone recognizes that after 55 years, he deserves a little me-time and we-time with Gloria.
Still, there is some good and not-too-surprising news for people who prefer to take change in small doses. “Even though he sold the shop, my dad is still going to work there a couple of days a week,” said Tkaczuk.