Making new waves: the history of Puglisi’s barbershop

In addition to witnessing some of the most defining moments in the nation’s history, the owner of Puglisi’s barbershop on Pennsylvania Avenue has seen trendy hairstyles come and go.

Since emigrating from Sicily in 1960, Antonio Puglisi has given customers mohawks, flattops or “whatever they want.” After operating for 30 years from a townhouse where the glass-and-steel World Bank building now stands, Puglisi moved to his present-day location in the GW-owned 2100 Pennsylvania Avenue retail shops.

Puglisi’s is a small-town barbershop in the heart of the nation’s capital; it has seen scores of demonstrations protesting U.S. involvement in wars from Vietnam to Iraq. Despite its location on one of the District’s busiest streets, the shop maintains a friendly, easy-going atmosphere the GW community has partaken in for two generations that have melded together in Puglisi’s mind.

Puglisi, 64, spoke no English when he came to the United States, and did not have time to learn the language as a father of two with a busy work schedule. But his daily conversations with customers facilitated his English education.

“It helped a lot to speak with customers,” he said.

Puglisi prides himself on charging only $17 for a haircut, which he said is the cheapest in town.

“I do it for the students,” he said.

For some customers, paying nearly $20 for a haircut may seem expensive, especially to those who were paying the $1.50 that Puglisi charged when he first opened the shop.

“But,” Puglisi said, “if we had kept up with inflation, we should charge a lot more.”

Puglisi’s regulars, who range in age and occupation, give the small shop character.

GW alumnus Brian Coleman said he strolls into Puglisi’s for a buzz cut every week. Because his participation in the Marine Corps necessitates weekly haircuts, he said it has become “a habit or a ritual almost.”

Other notable regulars include a family that has gotten their hair cut at the shop for three generations. The customers were so loyal that they helped Puglisi move his shop, Puglisi said.

“It’s a simple business,” he said.

Customers can also peruse the shop’s various Playboy magazines as they wait in metal chairs for one of four barbers to cut their hair.”It’s a barbershop thing,” said Puglisi of the magazines.

Freshman Matt Hammink said that in addition to his haircut being “awesome,” “I like the magazines.”

Puglisi said he has enjoyed having GW as a landlord and added that he supports its expansion in Foggy Bottom.

“The changes are for good,” said Puglisi, who noted that there is “no crime or anything like that.”

But his favorite part about being on a college campus is the students.

“They give it a lot of life,” he said. “It’s a good feeling.”

One of his most memorable interactions with students happened when about 50 ROTC members came to get their heads shaved at the same time. “They had to send in only 10 at a time,” he said.

He also shaved off the beard of University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, who sported facial hair in the late 1990s.

“I like him … He’s a very good man,” Puglisi said.

Trachtenberg said he gets haircuts at Puglisi’s about six times a year.

“He does a perfectly good job, but I’m very easy … cut it short,” Trachtenberg said.

When Puglisi’s moved to its its shop to the present location, Trachtenberg said he was initially worried because, at that time, “students (didn’t) get haircuts.” But Trachtenberg said the shop was popular among students because “haircuts came back into fashion” in 1990.

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