Phillip Apolakiatis has been cutting hair in West End since 1960. At seven in the morning, five days a week, he opens the door of his barber shop on Vulture Street.
Each day Phillip welcomes his clients warmly, some of whom have been coming to him for 50 years. “I have people waiting outside when I get here,” he says, “6.45 they’re waiting outside for me.”
Phillip started his apprenticeship at the Five Chairs Working salon on Boundary Street in West End when he was 16. His brother John also worked there and Phillip began by sweeping the floors and watching and learning from him. It was not love at first snip. “I hated it at first, hated it. Then after a while I said okay fine. I stuck it out.”
Phillip stayed on at Five Chairs Working for almost 10 years, until he and John bought the shop on Vulture Street in 1969. John worked with him for two years before moving to Sydney and Phillip took over on his own. He also started a family. He has four children and now nine grandchildren of whom he is incredibly proud. Their photos decorate the shop.
These days Phillip really enjoys what he does. “It’s not a chore,” he says. “The guys whose hair I cut, they’re mainly, I wouldn’t say close friends, but they’re more friends than what they are clients. I don’t class them as clients.”
Many of Phillip’s customers have stuck with him since he first started. “I’ve got clients here that have been coming from day one, since I first opened, but also a couple of clients that were actually, when I was working down the road, I cut their hair down there.”
His favourite part of the job is talking to people. “I enjoy conversation. I can talk to anybody. I can talk to a child; I can talk to a guy who’s a multi-millionaire; I talk to people that are schizophrenic; I talk to them all. It becomes an art after a while.” He is always happy to listen, and happy to give advice when asked for it too. “One guy actually said to me, ‘Phil I could have saved money by coming to you instead of to a counsellor’ — because exactly what I told him, the counsellor told him.”
Many boys have come to him for their first haircut and some even return years later. “A lot of people will walk in and say, ‘Do you remember me?’ I had one young guy he said to me, ‘Look I was wondering, I got my hair cut here when I was about eight. Was that your father?’ I said no, that would have been me. I suppose to an eight-year old; I would have been a 38-year old, I would have seemed old to him.”
As for how long he’ll keep cutting hair, he’s not sure. “I don’t know. I can’t answer that question … when I wake up one morning and think, I don’t want to do this anymore. That’ll be it.”
Words by Leah Carri | Images by Stayc Connolly