Jobs They Love: Barber
Updated: May 28, 2021
Lucky are they who look forward to Mondays with joy in their hearts! Meet the folks whose talents and passions are happily matched to the jobs they have.
RAY MAZZINI, JR.
In most towns across the U.S., the traditional barber shop is one of the regular gathering places in the neighborhood, along with the church, the public library, and the corner coffee shop. In cities like New York, it’s a customary stop for local news of the street, sports team analyses, and political grousing.
Sure, you can also get a shave and a haircut, but it’s also a place you can go to get out of the house and for the price of a nice trim, you can shoot the breeze with someone else besides your spouse or your cat.
The best barber shops are the ones that have been in the family for generations, where, in an otherwise unhinged, warp-speed world, things change slowly, if at all, and “everybody knows your name,” as the song goes. In other words, a place like Ray’s Barber Shop.
The Mazzini family has been cutting hair on the upper west side of Manhattan for 80 years. Andrew opened a shop in Washington Heights in 1940, which he ran until 1980. His brother Frank hung out his striped barber pole a mile north in the Inwood neighborhood in 1965 where his younger brother Ray joined him in the business.
Ray later relocated the shop a few blocks away to the corner of West 207th and Cooper Streets. Ray’s son, Ray Jr., took over the friendly 207th Street location eight years ago and has been cutting hair and giving shaves there ever since.
Customer loyalty runs deep at Ray’s Barber Shop. Many silver haired customers today remember getting their first haircuts as kids from Ray’s grandfather.
Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in the town of Paramus in northern New Jersey.
Do you remember your first haircut?
I specifically don’t remember my first haircut, but I do remember many kitchen haircuts and backyard haircuts as a kid. I had so many different hairstyles being that my dad was my barber.
Was it a foregone conclusion that you would learn the trade and continue the family tradition of barbering?
I was asked that question all the time leading up to college -- if I was going to follow the family tradition. I decided to go to college instead and majored in sports/event management. I had a great college experience and when I graduated, I got a job as Events/Catering manager at Madison Square Garden.
While working at the Garden, my dad asked me many times if I wanted to take over his barber shop in Inwood because he was planning to buy his brother’s barber shop out in New Jersey.
After months of thinking it over, I decided to quit my job and I began working with my dad as an apprentice. In 2014, after two years of working under him, the time came for me to take over the shop. My dad worked with me on the weekends for a while, until he became full-time at the Jersey shop and that’s when I took over the shop here.
Your dad once said that being a barber was like “being a bartender but without the booze.” Do customers confide their woes or joys with you?
He’s actually 100% correct about that! I hear stories every week about people being pregnant, people getting divorced, people getting married, the ins and outs of his/her jobs, and general pros and cons of just life. It’s like we’re part bartender/psychiatrist. I should write a book about some of these stories I hear. You also meet people you just click with and bond with really well and you make new friends that become like family. I have a handful customers I’ve become close with that are coming to my wedding!
How do you learn to give a straight-razor shave without, you know, killing somebody?
I learned from my dad -- that’s one of the first things I learned actually. I practiced on my dad’s customers, and on my dad. I cut my dad many times while learning! It’s one of the most difficult things to master when learning to be a barber. One wrong angle or move or sneeze and the guy you’re shaving becomes a murder scene. (That never has, and never will happen -- haha!)
What percentage of your clientele are return customers?
I would say about 90%. We have a strong and dedicated clientele. I still have my grandpa’s customers that I cut --three generations, going strong still!
Photos (from top): Ray Mazzini, Jr.; Ray’s Barber Shop exterior on 207th and Cooper Streets, New York City. Both by Kyle Rothwell.