Writing New York: Posts from the Boroughs and Beyond — 2008-2011 Rotating Header Image

Old Cuts in a Changing Neighborhood

At the corner of East Tremont, a small shop has catered to many textures of hair—straight, curly, dread locks, braids, and waves. From a distance, on the East Tremont strip of small delis, markets, discount stores and salons, the M&M Pelham Manor Barber shop cannot be missed. With its offbeat pinstripe design of red, blue and white assortment, this tiny old shop is by far the most colorful.
Inside the slightly soiled windows, the re-done red and dull yellow pattern tiles lay on the floors and the checkered pattern black and white wall paper cling to walls not occupied by large rectangular mirrors. Some old and new large cushioned, black and brown chairs are lined up like soldiers, each chair being stationed near small divided brown tables with white rectangular drawers housing their razors, machine clippers, face clothes, oils and sprays.
The M&M Pelham Manor Barber shop, located on 235 East Tremont has been a well known, popular business for 25 years. “Every man that knows about East Tremont, whether they live here or shop, knows about Pelham Manor shop,” says Levi Welch, current Manager and employee of the barber shop for 17 years. Serving the community with a wide range of haircuts such as light and dark Caesars, fades, trims, buzz cuts or just shape-ups, this tiny shop has mastered the ways of cutting hair.
The old barber shop, before it was well known, was a small closed off space that was once occupied by another business that has been forgotten. The late owner, Dr. Bernard Ductan took note of the desolate space, and decided to invest in it to earn additional income. “Dr. Ductan was a money maker, always trying to make a little more,” says Gine Harper, former manager of the Pelham Manor barber shop when it first opened.
Dr. Ductan, a physician in one of the small medical clinics that also serves the community, decided to open a business that he wouldn’t have to look after so much due to his own workload. That’s when his friend Mr. Harper suggests a barber shop. “I told Bernard that I could run the shop. I would hire and manage the barbers, make all the orders, set the policies, and give him rent on the shop monthly from the money the barbers would pay me to cut hair in the shop,” says Harper. “After careful thought Bernard said let’s do it,” Harper continued.
The two friends ran the business together for some time until Dr. Ductan passed away from a heart attack, he was 58 years old. After Dr. Ductan’s passing, his son Miguel Ductan, 39 years old took over as owner. “Things did change a bit when Miguel came into the picture, he comes as frequently as he can, even though his schedule restricts him from coming more than a few times a month,” said Harper.
With other businesses riddling the streets of the East Tremont area, there seems to be a comfortable yet competitiveness in the air. “Since Pelham Manor has been opened, things have been pretty easy going, no problems that we couldn’t handle,” said Welch. The other barber shops in the area, also serving clients of both Hispanic and Black descent find comfort in the various shops. In Pelham Manor, while serving Hispanics as well as Blacks, primarily serve the latter.
“It’s not that we’re racist or anything,” says Shalay Thomas, a very well known barber in the area, “It’s just people go where they feel more comfortable, depending on what we talk about, whether we speak Spanish or English, the type of music we play and how some of us cut hair,” Thomas continued.   Welch said, “Our doors are always open to anyone who walks in, but some people enjoy the company of people like them, like Hispanics, and since a majority of our barbers are Black, we don’t really see as many Hispanics as the barber shops whose barbers are mostly of that descent.”
Levi Welch, one of the remaining barbers out of three since the shop’s beginning, became manager of the M&M Pelham Manor barber shop due to Gine Harper’s sight degeneration. In Welch’s hands, a variety of changes came into effect such as the re-modeling of the floors and the walls as well as a few new chairs and repairs to the old ones. “I wanted to make the shop stand out a bit more so I spoke with Miguel about some of the designs and he said do what we think will make money,” said Welch, “So I decided to throw in a few colors and patterns, then we re-painted the outside, the goal was to kind of make the shop stand out compared to the rest.”
Many businesses in the area are owned by people who also own other businesses, and those that actually work in the store or manage the businesses work for the owners. “The rent is not too bad, on average. I’d say many business managers here pay anywhere from $2,000 for small establishments like delis and up to $20,000 for bigger properties such as Laundry Mats and Supermarkets,” said Denise Rivera, a manager of Cynthia’s Hair Salon, up the block from the Pelham Manor shop.
Businesses affected by the economic status have taken various steps to continue to see profit, some have increased their prices, while others have let employees go, but few businesses actually closed. “It’s not too surprising to see how many of the neighboring businesses are still able to function, believe it or not, rent is actually not that bad,” says Welch.

5 Comments on “Old Cuts in a Changing Neighborhood”

  1. #1 jcunneen
    on Oct 27th, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    I have an old barbershop near me as well. I enjoyed reading about its history and how they renovated to try to stand out from other barber shops.

  2. #2 alexandra.torres
    on Oct 27th, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    Great lede!

    I like how you went into detail about the appearance of the barbershop inside. “the re-done red and dull yellow pattern tiles lay on the floors and the checkered pattern black and white wall paper cling to walls not occupied by large rectangular mirrors”

    You headline is clever as well.

    Welch said: “Every man that knows about East Tremont, whether they live here or shop, knows about Pelham Manor shop.” It would have been interesting to test his theory and ask some men in the neighborhood (but not so close to the barber shop) if they know of his establishment or have ever got their haircut there.

  3. #3 Moses Daramey
    on Oct 30th, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    I have been cutting my hair in this barber shop for the last ten years . The barbers, Tres, Levi, Shay and Victor they all great barbers.And the atmosphere inside is great…love it.

  4. #4 joseph.jackson
    on May 1st, 2012 at 5:40 pm

    Wow, small world. I’ve been going to Shay for almost 10 years.

  5. #5 joseph.jackson
    on May 1st, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    Great remarks Alexandra, and sorry for not responding for so long. I fell out of touch. Pelham Manor is one of the more popular establishments is not only the East Tremont area, but throughout the surrounding Bronx area. Because many of the barbers are widely known through friends, relatives and customers word of mouth, the shop has become a popular area. You should see how long lines can get for a haircut on a Friday.

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