Ali Brosnan has seen it all in his 50 years as a barber – bowl cuts, crew cuts and everything in between. While the styles may have changed, one thing remains the same – his ready smile, quality banter and skills with the scissors. Reporter Daniel Birchfield caught up with Mr Brosnan on Monday, as he celebrated 50 years in the hairdressing industry.
Q How did you get into the industry in the first place?
In the (school) holidays I used to go and work for my uncle as a builder in Christchurch. He had his own business and I always had the intention, and I didn’t know what, that I was going to have my own business. I came home from a haircut one day .. I was 16. My mum said about being a hairdresser?’ and I thought got on the phone and made a few calls and found out that Alan looking for an apprentice. I gave him a call and went in the next day for an interview, and had the job the next day. I said I would prefer to sit the school cert exams before I finished school, which I did, and started with him at the beginning of December. We became really good mates. He’s coming up 93 . . . we still have regular catch ups.
Q How long were you there for?
After four and a-half years, when I was 20, the opportunity came up to buy Jim Keen’s business at the bottom end of town, which I did with a bit of help from others around the place, so we made the move. It was quite gutting really because I really enjoyed working for Alan and his family, but he said he would have done the same thing if he had his time again, too. I went down in December 1974, that’s when I started on my own and went on for 42-odd years. Then, Vivo came on the scene about three years ago and I found the opportunity to sell up and they bought me, and I have carried on working for them as one of the team. I’m deputy dog and Anna is the top dog. I work four days a week so I have Wednesdays off to go and play golf. It’s been a pretty amazing journey really. I have had a lot of support. I remember Christmas one year, maybe not the first but definitely the second, I made $1000 on Christmas Eve and the bank manager was as chuffed as I was.
Q Do you remember your first haircut?
My first solo haircut as an apprentice was Laurie Campbell. He came down and Alan’s father used to come and look after me at lunchtimes when I was there by myself. He said haircut, boy’ and I said allowed to give you a haircut’. I won’t tell you the language he used, but I gave him a haircut. It was a real entertainment .. I was scared stiff. Shaking like a leaf. But, it was a baldy short back and sides. He didn’t have a lot of hair. He came back to me all the time after that.
Q How have styles changed over the years?
When I started, the hair was quite long. It was down over the shoulder, down over the ears .. like a Beatles-style sort of thing. The ones I didn’t enjoy doing were the bowl cuts. They were hard and very time consuming. Nowadays, we’re back to short back and sides and fades. It’s quite intricate work. A lot of the new barbers are quite artistic and pretty clever people.
Q How have things changed from a business perspective?
In those days, you used to sell a lot of wallets, pipes, lighters and lottery tickets. When we brought those $20 [lottery] tickets out .. they would queue up to where your office is now. They were just booming. Then Lotto came on the scene and we lost the agency because we didn’t seem to fit in with what they were doing. Now, everyone sells Lotto tickets.
Q What do you make of doing the job for 50 years?
It’s just a number really, isn’t it? As long as you’ve got your health, you’ve got everything. You’ve got to smile and keep healthy.
Q What have you enjoyed most about the job during that time?
Just the people really. Some people really respect what you do for them. You become a mini-psychologist .. you’re their first port of call to have a talk to. It’s quite nice they respect what you think.
Q Do you reckon you’ve still got a few years left in you?