38 years as a Pleasanton barber -- that's a lot of haircuts
When Cosmo Panetta first opened his barber shop on Main Street in May 1972, you could ride a horse downtown to his shop's hitching post out front, get a shoe shine for 50 cents and a hot towel shave and haircut for a couple of dollars more. In those days, most men kept their hair cut short, many parted it on the left or right, and tipped a quarter or half a dollar at the most.
Today, as Cosmo celebrates his 38 years in Pleasanton and also 36 years at his First Street location in Pleasanton Plaza, the city's first strip shopping center, much has changed. Horses are no longer allowed downtown, you probably have to drive to an airport to get a shoe shine, and haircuts are now $10 at Cosmo's Barber Shop, still one of the better bargains in men's grooming in the Tri-Valley.
Cosmo, who's 67, immigrated with his family to the U.S. from Calabria, Italy, in 1957, traveling by train from the family's Staten Island docking to Richmond and then on to San Leandro where relatives already lived. At 19, he graduated from Pacific High, which was absorbed into San Leandro High School later. A friend interested him in barbering so he went to Moliere's Barber College where he obtained his state license and began a career, working in other shops before buying out Krause and renaming the Krause barber shop that was next to Past Time Pool on Main Street.
Cosmo and his wife Marisa live in a large Italian-style home with plastic pink Flamingos and a backyard shed filled with homemade wines. It's a necessary stop for a group from Pleasanton and nearby cities in the late afternoon of every first Thursday as the local Italian contingent makes its way to the Colombo Club in Oakland, itself a fixture of the Italian community that first settled there as immigrants. I joined this select group May 3 where I had a chance to visit with Tony Macchiano, Rich Puppione, Bob Molinaro, Dan Faustina and scores of other Italian-Americans from Pleasanton, who all asked the same question: How did a British descendant like me get inside the hallowed halls of the Colombo Club?
In addition to his Italian connections, which extend far beyond the Bay Area, Cosmo is also a sports enthusiast whose barber shop walls are covered with signed photos. Although he discreetly steers clear of political chatter, he and his associate barbers have handled the haircuts and hair styles for thousands of customers over the years, including many of our local politicians. Just how many? Cosmo cites a friend's suggestion that he post a sign outside "1 billion haircuts," just as McDonald's has done with its hamburgers.
Although a majority of customers are still men, women aren't far behind and are gaining in numbers as Cosmo hires "multi-tasked" women professionals capable of making any round, oval square or heart-long faced female look even better with new styles, coloring, extensions and more. His barbers and stylists are regular, too, which helps for women who like to make appointments with the same professional. Some have been with Cosmo for years, including Maria Doccaro, now 40, who joined the Cosmo team when she was 18.
Cosmo also has special appeal for youngsters, no doubt because of his price and 12-hour, seven days a week shop openings. But just as his associates keep up with the latest hairstyles for women, they also are on top of men's hair preferences. Currently, it's the George Clooney and Justin Bieber styles that are in vogue. Long gone are the once-popular Mohawks, Elvis Presley sideburns and long hair. Although cutting hair is usually uneventful, Cosmo ran into trouble recently when he cut the overly-long hair of a 10-year-old at the insistence of his mother, who was standing alongside. Seeing in the mirror that his long locks were gone, the boy ran up to Cosmo and kicked him in the shin as hard as he could.
Last week, I made it easy for Cosmo, my own barber since I moved here in 1987. Asking how I preferred my hair, he then chuckled, saying there wasn't all that much left anymore to worry about. Five minutes later I was through, paid my bill, and was out the door.