There was a crowd in the Riviera on March 2 for the barber shop’s anniversary celebration. Councillor Jennifer McKelvie, right, presented a commemorative certificate from the city. Photo: Don Lawrence

The Riviera Barber Shop at Fanfare Ave. and Port Union Rd. celebrated 50 years in business with a party in the shop on March 2. Customers who came in for a cut that day were surprised by the event but happy to partake of the cake and champagne being offered.

Local politicians Jennifer McKelvie, Gary Anandasangaree and Vijay Thanigasalam all dropped by with special commemorative certificates for the shop and for Nick Palmieri. He’s the only one who has been there since the shop opened in 1969.

There were two partners, Nick and Hector Cundari, when the shop was purchased in 1969. Originally called Gino’s Barber Shop by the first owner, they renamed it the Riviera because “you could see a little bit of the lake at the time,” Nick said. “We called it the West Rouge Riviera.” The Ravine Park Plaza wasn’t there to block the view until 1975. Co-owner Hector worked there for 38 years but is retired now. The new co-owner is Emilia Yachnik who been at the shop for 17 years.

The Riviera still has the original porcelain and steel sinks and three original barber chairs that have been recovered three times. Nick is now 71 and working part-time. He doesn’t plan to retire yet “but I don’t want to work the rest of my life.” The amazing thing is that he lived in the west end when he bought the shop and in 1986 he moved even further away to Woodbridge. It takes him 45-50 minutes to get to the shop in the morning and 30 minutes to go home.
Although he never lived in this area, Nick played soccer every Sunday with the West Rouge Soccer Club until he was 55. The shop doesn’t sponsor sports teams any longer but gives raffle prizes for community activities and school events.

History for the shop includes a frame on the wall that displays a latch from the nose of the Avro Arrow. One of the shop’s oldest customers was a pilot who wanted to give people a chance to see a piece of Canada’s doomed fighter plane.

Emilia is from Ukraine and came to Canada in 1995. She learned to be a barber, not a hairdresser, in her native country. “I like the barber shop and I decided to stay here forever,” she says. Nick interrupts her: “You decided? I gave you a job.”

They both like the customers they have here. There aren’t many new ones but the repeat customers keep coming back, even when they move out of the area, which is a sign of the skill of the barbers and the camaraderie men enjoy with them.