‘We’re not going anywhere’: Toronto barbershop celebrates 90 years of service

TORONTO — Forest Hill Barber Shop has become a family affair – not just for the staff, but for the generations of customers who’ve come to get their haircut.

“It all begins in 1931,” Terry Caris told CTV News Toronto, as he sat in the barber chair usually occupied by his customers. “My father-in-law came around in the early 60s and he was running it until the 80s when he became the sole owner.”

His father-in-law’s name was Nick Vitantonio, and he was the owner of Forest Hill Barber Shop for nearly half a century.

“I started dating Nick’s daughter in high school,” Mario Smeriglio told CTV News Toronto. “When his partner Tony retired, he needed a barber and he kept asking my brothers if they wanted to come work- and I said maybe I’m going to try it!”

Decades later, Smeriglio and Caris are co-owners of the Spadina Road shop. They’re also married to Vitantonio’s daughters. A truly family affair, the newest barber at the shop is Nick’s grandson Alex Caris.

He says he grew up around the shop, telling CTV News Toronto, “I’ve been working since I was about nine-years-old, sweeping the floor and helping these guys out and just spectating and having a lot of fun.”

There was plenty of fun at the shop on Friday, as customers and people passing by came to congratulate the staff on the shop’s 90th anniversary. Some stayed for a drink, others brought gifts, and many came to get a haircut.

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Much has changed in the shop in the past 90 years, including the haircuts themselves, according to the shop’s longest serving barber. Nicola Peragine has been cutting hair at the shop for 51 years, and says when he started it was “the long hair like the Beatles. I started cutting and giving the long hair, and then the styles started changing.”

But like the antique cash register in the shop’s back corner, some things remain from days gone by like the straight razor shaves, hot towels, and scalp massages. They’re just some of the reasons customers keep coming back.

“We’re at four generations now of cutting hair,” Smeriglio said. “We’ve had families that have been coming here for years and years.”

But some of the original generation are still coming too, including 83-year-old Michael Aiken, who came to the shop on Friday to offer his best wishes. He’s been getting haircuts at the shop for the past 75-years. He said he still remembers the shop as young boy.

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“I used to come in here and there was a man who swept the floors of all the loose hair,” Aiken told CTV News Toronto. “I always wanted to push the hair into the hole and one time he let me do it and I was thrilled.”

Staff say the secret to their success has been the loyalty of customers. Something that’s been tested during the past several years during COVID-19.

“When we got shut down, I said ‘well this is over,’” Terry Caris said. “The rest is history I guess. We managed. We still had bills to pay, and it’s been a challenge, but we’re here to stay. We’re not going anywhere.”

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