By Vasilis Vasilas
Last week, we focussed on how the longevity of successful local businesses transforms them into local icons, and Peter Spanos is another local legend, running barber shops for over 50 years!
Having been trained and then working in Athens, Greece, Peter and his family migrated to Australia in 1964. As a young seventeen year old, he balanced working at the Tip Top factory in Newtown, attending English lessons at night school and cutting hair for a Russian barber in Bankstown.
Finishing the fourth year of his apprenticeship as a barber, Peter worked for a Greek barber whose shop was in Tower St, north Panania but his dream was always to open up his own barber shop.
An opportunity arose when Peter found a vacant shop in East Hills and he could lease out the premises for a barber shop. At the time, trains terminated at East Hills as it was the last stop on the East Hills railway line.
Despite the long hours and working alone, Peter was motivated enough to overcome any arising problems, ‘Every start is difficult. It may have been a ‘one-man show’ but I had the enthusiasm and hope for a brighter future. I wanted to be a successful migrant; Australia provided me with an opportunity and I took it.’
Peter provides some vivid anecdotes about having a barber shop in East Hills in the late 1960s, ‘Being located so close to the East Hills Hotel, many of my customers would come from the Hotel to get their hair cut. They would finish work and then visit the Hotel and have a couple of drinks to wind down. Then, they would decide to have a haircut.
They are very different times. They would often come with their glasses of beer to the shop. I would cut their hair and they would forgetfully leave the glasses at the shop. So, I would have to pick up the glasses and return them to the Hotel. When my customers did come from the Hotel, they were ‘happy.’ Australians are very easy customers, very polite and they quickly become your friends.’
Peter remembers East Hills in the late 1960s was like a small village, with only the East Hills Hotel and a couple of shops but, over the years, East Hills shopping centre began to grow with more shops.
In the early 1980s, Peter’s stay at East Hills came to an end when the State Rail Authority plans for a new station, as the railway line was being extended from East Hills to Campbeltown, forced Peter out, ‘After nineteen years, I was forced to leave. East Hills was my home; I had spent more years in East Hills and than in Greece.‘
Peter was lucky enough to find a vacant shop in Panania shopping centre and, after renovating the premises, opened Peter’s Hairdressing Salon. Peter has worked in Panania ever since.
Some of my famous customers were singers, Col Joye, and his family, Ricky May and Sandy Scott (who incidentally married Col Joye’s sister). As customers, he also had Swimming Olympian, Ian Thorpe, and politicians- whether Local, State or Federal.
Although Peter has always striven to provide the best quality service for his customers, his barber shop is known for its friendly atmosphere, where people feel comfortable to meet and socialise.
One rewarding aspect of his job is when Peter cuts the hair of customers in the same family, who have been coming to the shop for decades and he finds himself having cut the hair of four generations, ‘I have cut the grandfather’s hair and he brought his son for haircuts who grew up and brought his own son for haircuts. All cutting the hair of three generations, this makes me feel that I am part of their family too.’
After so many decades of operating the local barber shop, it is definitely more than just a shop- it is a social hub too, ‘What keeps me going is my love for my work and the people that I meet every day. Customers find our barber shop as a friendly place to meet; they often come with their coffee and enjoy socialising at our shop. Being a meeting point, if anyone wants to know what is going on in the local area, they come to the shop and ask if I know anything. That is why some of my customers jokingly called me ‘the sheriff’ as I know what was going on in Panania.’
And what is a major drawing card to Peter’s barber shop is Peter himself; he has such a friendly nature that warmly welcomes his customers.
Reflecting on his fifty years of working as a barber, Peter acknowledges just how important the local area is in his own life, ‘I left school when I was thirteen years old and migrated here when I was only seventeen. I was blessed to have found my shop in Panania; in the 1970s, my family put roots in the ground and we have lived in the local area ever since. After working over four decades here, the sun always sets in Panania. This is my home.’