RAY’S BARBER SHOP, INWOOD’S LONG-TERM TREASURE
Looking for a great place to get a haircut? My favorite neighborhood barber shop is owned by Ray Mazzini. Ray's Barber Shop is on 207th Street between Broadway and Cooper Street.
Ray explains, “My brother Frank and I learned the barber trade from our father (Andrew) who practiced the trade for 65 years. My father worked in Washington Heights for 50 years before joining my brother and I at "Frank's Barber Shop" on Broadway and 204th Street (est.1965).”
The three of them worked together for 15 years at the 204th street location. Rays says that he’s followed in the family tradition. “I, too, have always taken much pleasure in dealing with our long list of established customers, and so has my son Ray Jr., who has taken over the Cooper street location and has been cutting hair and giving shaves since 2013.”
Ray Sr. and Ray Jr. take great pride in the quality of the service they provide, and based on the positive feedback they receive from customers, they are living up to their high standards.
Next time you need a haircut or a professional shave you might want to consider the services offered at this great, authentic, traditional barber shop right in the middle of the Inwood neighborhood of Upper Manhattan.
According to blogger Daniel P. Bader, Ray Mazzini Sr. used to tease his older brother, Frank, about how many of his adult customers had their first hair cuts as kids in his chair. "Now I'm reaching that point myself," Ray Sr. told Daniel. "I do first haircuts and last hair cuts." Ray Sr. has been cutting men's hair for over 20 years, starting at their old location on W. 204th Street in 1985.
In fact, there has been a Mazzini clipping hair in either Washington Heights or Inwood since 1940 and this continues to the present day with Ray Jr. "My dad was a barber in Washington Heights,” Ray Jr. explains. “185th Street and St. Nicholas is where my dad grew up and where his shop was. My great-grandparents came over from Italy at the turn of the century. The Heights and Inwood have been in my family forever."
Andrew moved the shop to W. 204th Street in 1955 and continued clipping hair even after he retired in 1980. The shop passed to Ray's brother, Frank, and for 12 years the three Mazzini men worked the shop together. In 1997 Andrew passed away and Frank opened a shop near his home in New Jersey, passing the family business to Ray.
The three chairs in his shop are over 100 years old. Now you can see customers of Ray, Jr. in those chairs. Old photos, including one of Ray’s dad next to his chair before he owned his own shop, hang on a back wall near waiting benches and magazines in the Cooper Street shop.
As Ray finished up with a customer, he continued: "It's a meeting place for a lot of Inwoodites. People come in here to drop off news and pick up news. Sort of like a bartender but without the booze." He reminisced on how the neighborhood has changed, and how it has stayed the same. "I'd say 99 percent of people are repeat customers. There are some who were Yeshiva students that still come in as senior citizens." Ray thinks his customers love routine, especially not having to explain how they want their hair cut when they come in.
Ray was forced by rising rents to move from W. 204th Street to his current location on W. 207th Street near Cooper Street in 2000, but all his customers followed him. He saw them personally, because he had three months notice to move and he saw them all in his chair to deliver the news to each of them. "Right from the first day [on W.207th St street] it was business as usual," he said. That customer base, developed by his father, then his brother, and continuing with his son is what keeps his shop open.
"Ritchie," he said, pointing to a man getting his hair cut, "he's here 40 years, ya know? My best customers are still my customers.”
In fact, Manny Ramirez, owner of Dichter Pharmacy, right around the corner from Ray’s, has also been a loyal customer for 40 years. “Consistency is the key for success," Ray says. But many of his customers have changed. Senior citizens used to be 90 percent of his business. Now they account for only 5 percent of his sales.
"Those are all your Inwoodites that are gone now," he said. "I miss all those World War II stories. Change is good, but some of that is irreplaceable." He jokes that every 100 years the haircut is free. "Only one customer has taken me up on it," Ray said. Mr. Cohen, he recalls, came in after his 100th birthday for his free haircut. "He passed away just recently," Ray added.
The neighborhood has changed, Ray said, at least three times since he joined his brother's shop. He has seen Irish residents, German Jews, and Dominicans. Now he sees Inwood changing again, with transplants from downtown moving in who do not fit in an ethnic category. Now, he said, the neighborhood is more of a melting pot.
Over the years, customers have suggested that he expand to cut women's hair, or hire a stylist to bring women to the shop. But as far as changing the style of his haircuts, Ray believes some things are better left as they are. "It's one of the last pure barber shops," Ray said. "I feel my father started something that I don't want to change."
Full disclosure—I’m a woman and I love getting my close-cropped hair cut at a real barber shop, Ray’s. The hot towels and head massages are so relaxing too.
Ray’s Barber Shop, 634 West 207th St, New York, NY 10034
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