By Gabi Gage
Photos by Shane Godfrey
Walking into Alibrandi’s Barber Shop is like entering both a time warp and the set of your favorite feel-good movie. Nearly every inch of the shop’s walls are covered in news clippings, trophies and local sports paraphernalia, some dating back 30 years or more. Despite the overwhelming presence of these artifacts from Somerville’s history, the shop feels nothing like a museum – because at the center of the relics and the countless photos sits Tony Alibrandi, a man whose understated charisma breathes life into the history on the walls.
“I’ve had people come in and say ‘when you gonna get rid of this junk?’ They don’t realize ‘cause they’re not sports people. I worked very hard for all this junk,” Alibrandi, 75, says over the barbershop din of snipping, buzzing, talk radio, faint music and conversation. The police scanner is off today, but the red, white and blue pole is steadily turning outside. “I could tell you a story about every trophy in here if I had to. It all stays till I go,” he says with a smile.
The shop has been a Teele Square staple since 1938, when Tony’s father started the business. It’s had a few different homes, but has spent the majority of its existence at 194 Holland St. Tony had originally set his sights on hairdressing school, but was encouraged by his father, Joseph Alibrandi, to make the switch in ‘58. “I think my father is the only one who would have hired me back then,” he chuckles. “I was 17 years old and I was a pain in the neck. When you’re young you don’t always use your head. I’m glad things worked out like they did.”
The haircuts are swift, accurate and affordable. “No muss, no fuss.” For Tony, the real currency is conversation. He chats with his customers about goings-on about town, the weather and of course, sports. He maintains that this perk of the job never gets stale. “The whole idea of getting to talk to people. That’s what I like most. People drive you to it,” he says.
This constant conversation, with customers young and old, has carried Tony through the hard times. “It wasn’t good business in ‘58 when I started out. The Beatles came along in the ‘60s. No one wanted haircuts. I did think of leaving a few times because of it. But I’m glad I stuck it out.”
The barbershop life has allowed Tony to buy his home on Willow Avenue, to raise a family with his beloved wife, Donna, and to create a unique atmosphere at his shop and in his hometown that’s rich with conversation, community and service.
“The Guy Embodies Somerville”
Jersey boy meets Somerville girl. In a tale as old as time, Teddy Dziuba met his future wife Merri while attending Babson College. He also fell in love with Somerville. “The first time I went to Trum Field, there were multiple games going on, basketball, flag football, etc., It was great,” says Dziuba. “And at every game I went to, every time I went, there was an Alibrandi team playing. So naturally, I asked, ‘Who is Alibrandi?’”
Dziuba would learn what most of Somerville already knew. For roughly 37 years, Tony has sponsored hundreds of youth and adult athletes as well as dozens of teams, with as many as 26 teams a year in the earlier seasons. He’s also served on the Board of Elections Commission and the Somerville Recreation Commission. “A couple of neighborhood kids asked me to sponsor back in the ‘70s, and it just mushroomed from there.” Coming up with “the dough,” hasn’t always been easy, Tony admits, but he humbly asserts, “I do what I can and the kids do the rest.” Tony has sponsored it all, from youth and adult basketball, to flag football, girls softball, hockey and his crown jewel: the amateur men’s Alibrandis Baseball Team, a force in the competitive Yawkey League of Greater Boston.
Tony is passionate about his teams. While he does watch the Red Sox on TV, he prefers to support his own teams in person. He never misses a game of any of his teams if he can help it. You’ll often find him seated in his own chair behind home plate. “The refs don’t bother me much since I behave nowadays,” he says. If it’s chilly, he sports a scally cap. Passerbys will stop in to check the score with Tony.
“When people get to Trum, the first thing you do is say ‘hi’ to Tony,” says Justin Veri, a Somerville resident who has played for several of Tony’s sponsored teams. “The guy embodies Somerville,” adds Veri. If one of his basketball teams plays on the same night as his baseball
“I used to park my car in a certain space at the park, near Sunoco. That’s been my best luck spot lately,” he says.
That kind of enthusiasm and outreach is part of what brings people in to play for Tony’s teams. “Even before I played for his team I knew there was some guy – some benevolent barber – who was sponsoring dozens and dozens of kids that were getting to participate in extracurricular activities,” says Dziuba. After being drafted by the Mets in 2006 and playing in their system for three years, Dziuba joined the Alibrandis squad in 2010 and is now entering his fifth season as its catcher.
“Do it for Tony”
Despite being modest about his own community contributions, Tony has a healthy competitive side that makes for a rare combination with his own modesty. He loves to win. He’s always had a hands-on approach to sponsoring teams, even getting kids to sign up for teams from the barber chair. He’s too kind and too calm for drama, though. The choicest words you may get of him are that someone is “a pain in the neck.”
This type of commitment to the community inspires loyalty. The fact that the Alibrandis Baseball Club has won 14 championships is no coincidence. The investment in his teams is more than financial – it’s emotional. “He hurts more when we lose than he gloats when we win,” says Marc DesRoches, longtime Alibrandis team member.
Since that deep commitment to his team comes without strings, it has instilled in players a motivation to “Do it for Tony,” Dziuba explains. “He’s a genuine guy. He loves every kid who plays for him. It’s reciprocal everyone loves him,” says Mike Powers, one of the Alibrandis Baseball team’s founding members and its current general manager.
“When I picture Somerville, it’s a Friday night in the summer time, we just won a game, the lights stay on for an hour at Trum, we’re sharing war stories and talking baseball. Tony is one of the guys. He hangs out. He’s very much a part of the experience,” says Dziuba.
“Tony is the sweetest guy I know. There is no one he wouldn’t help. He just loves the city of Somerville,” adds David Treska, Alibrandis Baseball Team founder and president.
A Consistent Cut (Above)
For all the consistency of these responses about Tony, there’s still something unique and enigmatic about him. You leave a conversation with him feeling better than you did before, whether you’re one of the kids on his teams, a longtime customer or a reporter spending an afternoon with him. It’s not complicated. It’s consistent because Tony is consistent. He’s genuine and you can feel it. And that’s the key to the Alibrandi experience. The conversations with his patrons, the nights in Trum Field. These are the interactions that keep Tony going. He has no plans to retire in the near future.
“It’s a hard thing to do to just give up your work. I got to give ‘em a fight anyway,” he says with a smile.
It’s the little things that have made his life as a barber so rich and adorn his shop’s walls.
“I love to just sit out there and shoot the breeze with the kids.”