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Mario’s Barbers in Leytonstone has been a mainstay of the area for over 50 years and has stayed in the family since it opened in 1967. We speak to owner Costakis Costa about how the area has changed in that time and what he loves about his job and the community.
My dad opened the shop in May 1967. He came to this country in 1961 from Cyprus. I started as an apprentice in 1980 and joined the business after that. My dad retired and moved back to Cyprus in 2010 and I have run the shop since then. I took on my nephew three years ago, so the business has now been in the family for three generations.
Any place in London has changed over the years and Leytonstone is no exception. It has had its highs and lows like anywhere else.
When Dad opened the shop, if you were Irish, from Cyprus or somewhere else, you stuck out a bit, but obviously, things have changed dramatically in that sense, and now we have a fantastic diverse community.
A lot of people have moved in over the decades, but a lot have stayed too, which makes for a nice mix.
We have a range of ages; customers from about eight months old to people in their 80s. There is a real mix of ethnicities too.
I’ve got customers who have been coming here for 50 years, and in odd cases, as many as four generations of the same family. At some point in the past, we’ve had three generations of the same family in the shop at the same time! Our customers are very loyal.
The social aspect – 100%. I remember a friend of mine was in the shop once and said, “you have a good job, don’t you?” And it was only later I realised what he meant – the fact that I just get to chat to friendly people all day. What could be better than that?
It’s a job where you get credit where it’s due and I don’t think you get that in a lot of occupations. There aren’t many places of work where your boss comes up to you at the end of the day and gives you a slap on the back for a job well done.
I’d say 99% of customers leave here happy, with a smile on their face and there’s no better feeling about what you do than that.
There has been big uncertainty. I have to say the constant negativity is rubbing off on me a bit. I’m generally a positive person but it does have an effect when I hear customers who are coming back in after lockdown keep saying ‘how long are you going to be open for this time?’
It’s a year along and people are getting vaccinated now, but there’s still definitely something missing with people not allowed to sit in while they wait for a haircut. I miss everyone bouncing off each other in the shop. Pre-Covid, the locals would walk past and pop in for a quick chat. I hope we get back to that.
From a personal point of view, it’s going to be interesting. I love going to gigs and the football – I’m a Tottenham fan – but I do wonder how long it’s going to take to feel confident enough to be in a crowd again. When the first lockdown started, my wife and I had tickets for country music shows which we love going to. They keep getting pushed back, so I’m hoping I’ll feel confident enough to go once they do happen.
We are lucky that people have always supported us around here. I think a lot of people who used to work in the City are discovering us now. Whereas before they would have got their hair cut near their office after work, they now come here. That has been good for business. My philosophy is ‘why walk past one shop to get to another offering the same thing?’. Local businesses have the convenience factor.