Not unlike Michaelangelo, Ben Cataudello sculpts the perfect goatee. Not unlike Michaelangelo, Ben Cataudello sculpts the perfect goatee. Helene Goderis

This year, the Hart House Hair Place celebrates 90 years of snipping and styling away at U of T. The Hair Place is one of the oldest ongoing barber shops cum hair salons in the city. As long as Hart House has been part of the U of T community, the Hair Place has occupied the southwest corner of the building, serving generations of students, faculty, and staff.

Ben Cataudella has run the Hair Place since the winter of 1981. From 1975 to 1980, Ben’s brother was in charge until Ben was approached to take over the space and the service. At the time, he was happily working out of a newer facility at the Clarke Institute (now CAMH). He was not sure he was ready for the move. “Little did I know,” he says with a chuckle, as he prepares to celebrate nearly 30 years at the shop.

When I was an undergraduate, I got my hair cut at Hart House (then, as now, the Hair Place had a staff of three). After graduating, I moved around the city to different places, and old shops closed and new shops opened. But now that I am a student again, I seem to have moved up in the world. I now get my hair cut by Ben himself in his vintage chair, dating from the 1970s – “the Rolls Royce of barber chairs,” he says. While I have had many compliments on my new ’do, I am especially pleased with the fresh, neat look of my beard.

The ambiance of the Hair Place is a little bit like that of an old-fashioned barber shop. It has beautiful wood trim that dates back to when Hart House and the shop first opened. But don’t be fooled by appearances: the Hair Place is a full-service unisex shop, and all of the staff are fully qualified as both barbers and stylists. Colourings, tints, and perms are all part of the services offered.

"When I hire staff, I make sure that they are fully certified as stylists as well as barbers,” Ben says, which match his own qualifications. "That way, we can offer the full range of services that people want.” It's a far cry from life at the shop prior to 1972, when women were first allowed to use the facilities at Hart House.

As the years pass, Ben still loves working at Hart House. ”It’s a great atmosphere, ” he says, ”along with great people. I love my job and I really enjoy the clientele, especially the young students.”

He also notes that many famous people, including Canadian political figures, regularly come to visit Hart House. Overall, about half the clientele are students, with the remainder made up of faculty and staff (including several from Simcoe Hall).

In fact, some of his clients are people he served back at the Clarke. "There’s more than one person who followed me to Hart House and still comes to me, ” he says.

Several alumni, many from far away, also come back to get their hair cut. "You can see all the postcards from customers,” Ben says, as he points to the colourful collection on the mirror in the shop.

The hair place looks forward to many more years of service.

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