Thorold barber 'hair' for a good time ... and a long time

·2 min read

At 12 years old, Mario Pantano learned to cut hair as a young boy in Calabrese, Italy. Six decades later he can still be found with a pair of trimmers in his hand; only now it's at Mario's Barber Shop in Thorold.

He said when he was a boy, he was asked by his parents if he wanted to be a barber, to which he replied: “OK.”

“What else could I say? I was 12 years old,” he said. At that time, learning to cut hair was as simple as walking into your local barbershop and asking to be taught, according to Pantano.

“Slowly you learn and after a few years, you can cut hair,” he said. Pantano said his first memories of learning are “like a dream now.” He remembers his boss being strict, but “he taught me the right way.”

Pantano said that other than hairstyles and the cost of haircuts, not much has changed in his 60 years of barbering. Even then, he says, hairstyles tend to repeat themselves every few years or so.

Pantano was 20 years old when he decided to move to Canada permanently in 1968. This was another decision that was strongly influenced by his parents. Upon his arrival, Pantano worked short stints around the Niagara region, including working in the Fairview Mall, until he eventually settled in Thorold.

He worked at the Thorold Barber Shop for almost 20 years, then in February 1990, he bought a small barber shop a few doors away at 61 Front St. Thus Mario’s Barber Shop was born, and is still operating today.

Pantano described being shut down by COVID-19 as hard. He said in over 30 years of operation, he never shut his shop down for more than a few days, only ever doing so when on vacation. Due to the pandemic, Mario’s Barber Shop was closed for three consecutive months in 2020 and two months in 2021.

He said that in his many years as a business owner, the best lesson he learned was: “If you want business, you agree with the customer, even if (they’re) wrong.” His advice to those seeking longevity in their businesses: Never argue with the customer, open up shop on time, and keep all religious and political conversation to a minimum.

As for retirement, Pantano said he plans to keep working so long as it feels reasonable to do so. “I'll work maybe another three, four or five years? Who knows?”

Moosa Imran, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grimsby Lincoln News