As Massachusetts hair salons and barbershops open their doors during the state’s reopening plan, customers at Cambridge’s Central Barber Shop will miss a familiar presence.
Longtime barber Alfred J. “Fred” Iannacone Jr. — whose purported customers included former President Barack Obama and actors Matt Damon ’92 and Tommy Lee Jones ’69 — died of COVID-19 on April 20. He was 78.
For more than fifty years, Iannacone’s customers lined up as early as 5 a.m. to get their haircuts from him. Edward Chalmers, a long-time customer at Central Barber Shop, described Iannacone as an “old-school” barber whose business became a “melting pot,” with first responders, retirees, and Harvard affiliates all flocking to his storefront on Massachusetts Ave.
“He had people from all walks of life,” Chalmers said of Iannacone’s clientele. “It didn't matter whoever was in that shop at that time. You were comfortable being down there.”
Chalmers recalled that he first met Iannacone when his father took him to get their hair cut. Since then, he has visited Central Barber Shop with his own children to receive a “classic barbershop” experience — complete with lollipops for kids and a few “older gentlemen sitting around all the time.”
Iannacone’s son, Steven Iannacone, said his father fell in love with his job after graduating Medford High School. While his peers entered the lucrative real estate business in the 1960s, Iannacone entered barber school to earn a barber license.
"[His friends] used to always joke with him that maybe [he] should have went into the real estate. That's where all the money is,” Iannacone said. “And he's like, ‘No, I love what I do.’”
“He loved his people. He loved his community.” Iannacone added. “He loved running a business and he was very content with that.”
Just a block away from Harvard Law School, Central Barber Shop is a popular spot among law students. Fred Iannacone’s daughter, Rhonda Landers, said he used to “hold court” on Mass. Ave.
“He liked the intellectual capacity of the clientele there,” Landers said. “He liked to talk about things that were going on in the world.”
Chalmers said Iannacone could chat about anything from local news to sports at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School.
“When you sat in his chair, it’s like you were reading The Boston Globe,” he said.
Despite health issues toward the end of his life, Iannacone will be remembered by his customers for his punctuality and consistency.
Anthony J. Salvati, a co-worker at Central Barber Shop, said that Iannacone’s commitment to his craft was unparalleled, recalling a day when Iannacone hobbled to work immediately after losing his toe due to complications related to diabetes.
“He wasn’t even worried about the toe! He was more mad because he had to miss work,” Salvati said. “And he told me how he had never missed a day of work — ever.’”
With Iannacone’s passing, Chalmers said Cambridge will lose someone who created a space that anyone could enjoy.
“You don’t realize it until you really think about it, but it’s a simple pleasure going to get a haircut and talk about the day,” he said.
—Staff writer Charles Xu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @charles_xu_27.