Meet the Bristol barber who has no plans to retire after cutting hair for 51 years


“Let’s get up and talk because if I sit down I might fall asleep,” laughs 76-year-old barber Vince Bellavia when I walk into his shop in Bedminster.

But Vince has been on his feet almost every day for the past 51 years, since opening his first hair salon in Bristol.

As he sweeps the hair of the last customer of the new floor of the East Street boutique he has had since 1980, the ever-smiling Sicilian shows a black-and-white photo on the wall.

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It’s a photo of a young boy cutting his hair at an American barber shop in the 1950s. It’s not Vince, but he says that’s exactly how he started back home in Italy. .

“I was 11 when I started cutting my hair and was trained at a local hairdressing salon in Sicily. Back then, boys were expected to learn a trade so their families would send them to work with barbers, carpenters and tailors – they don’t anymore, which is a shame as those skills are all in the making. to disappear.

Vince left his small Sicilian town 60 years ago, first working in Germany for a few years, then moving to England because his brother lived in Bath. “I’ve been here ever since, Bristol is my home,” says Vince, who has lived in Downend with his wife for 48 years.

Two of the couple’s three sons have followed in Vince’s footsteps and work alongside their father – the leather barber chairs for Giulio and Adriano are on either side of the one Vince has used for half a century.

Vince opened the current store in 1980, but had owned smaller premises nearby for ten years previously.

“I started in 1970 with a little shop next to the Black Horse pub – now the Ropewalk Inn – then moved here after ten years.

“When I moved here, the Wills Cigarette Factory was where Asda is now and the street was much busier in terms of footfall.”

Asda first opened in the mid-1980s, but Vince also benefited from other large companies in the region during this time.

Vince has been running his business since 1970

“When Wills was across the road there were about 2,000 people working there and in Redcliff Hill there was a huge insurance office in Phoenix – now a hotel – and they employed a thousand. extra people so there were a lot of people using East Street.

“At that time, between noon and 2 pm, you had a job to go through because there were so many people here.

“The women from Wills and Phoenix would come in for their lunchtime groceries, the guys would come in for a haircut or go to the pub. Since they left the region, it has deteriorated. It’s dead now, even on Saturday.

“There have been a lot of changes in this area, but the situation has deteriorated in recent years, it has deteriorated a lot and something must be done for the region. “

Increased competition

In recent years there has also been an explosion in the number of new barbers opening across town and this increased competition has impacted Vince’s business as well.

“We had the recession, then the pandemic, but there are also more barbers around, especially Turkish barbers, which is the latest fad. There are more barbers than ever.

“There should be regulations in this country before any new business of any kind opens. I think they should be some distance away from other similar businesses, be it barbers, cafes or restaurants.

“He may have died here even on the weekend. We knew we would be busy on a Saturday, but these days you just don’t know who will come in.

“Sometimes you have to wait until 10am for things to get going, but we had people waiting outside for us to open at 8am.”

Vince Bellavia and his son Giulio
Vince Bellavia and his son Giulio

But despite the fact that Wills and the big offices have disappeared from the area, Vince admits having a huge Asda across the road has been good for business.

“When Asda first opened, we would suddenly have people from Hartcliffe, Knowle and even Nailsea and Long Ashton coming to East Street and many stopping for a haircut.

“These days being in front of Asda allows us to be honest. If that happened we would be in trouble as we also lost Park Furnishers behind the store – a lot of their staff and customers also came here to have their hair cut.

“The real problem with this area started when the council put double yellow lines all over the place and people suddenly couldn’t park, shop or have their hair cut.

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“This piece of East Street is the closest to the center, so it would be good to see some of the empty buildings being used, but they are building hundreds of apartments nearby, so we hope that will bring new life to the area. “

Vince has driven from his Downend home to his East Street business for half a century and he’s seen a lot of change during that time.

“When I started driving through town every day to Bedminster, the highway wasn’t even built,” he laughs, brushing more hair off the ground.

A modest and avuncular man, Vince is something of a local legend around Bedminster and he has been cutting the hair of the people of South Bristol for so long that he has seen quirky clients arriving with grandchildren and even great-grandchildren. children.

“I often get people walking past, honking their horns and waving their hands. Sometimes it’s people who had their hair cut here when they were kids and then moved and just came back to the area. Sometimes I don’t recognize who they are but they all seem to know me!

“When I retire, maybe the council will erect a statue of me. When they have a riot, they can fend it off like they did with Colston!

So what drives Vince after 51 years of haircutting at Bedminster?

“I still like to come here every day to talk to my clients. It’s always a pleasure to see them, new or old.

“I always said I would retire at 80, but I think I would get bored easily. I keep joking with my sons and clients that when I retire and the boys take over, I could sit outside the store and have my hair cut with a box for rooms !

“In fact, my grandson is 13 years old and he bears my name. Before I kick the bucket, I’d like to see him come into the business and trade as Vince’s. It would be lovely. “

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