Walking into Phil Soccorso's barbershop is like finding yourself in the middle of a Norman Rockwell painting. Though the winter cold creeps up at you from the pock-marked paint-spattered cement floor, the conversation is always warm at Fast Phil's.
Soccorso opened the Massachusetts Avenue shop over two years ago.
Surrounded by a vast array of Boston sports memorabilia, he snips and clips as he chatters with customers at a mile-a-minute pace. His customers are loyal and local.
"90 percent of my work is in Cambridge," he said.
Soccorso said he has a passion for tennis, but inside the barber shop he sticks to bowling pins. Alewife Photo by Neil W. McCabe
Paul Corriveau, who owns a mechanic shop
right next to Fast Phil's, stopped in just before closing recently for a quick cut.
"You hippy," Soccorso said to his friend, customer, and next-door neighbor as Corriveau settled into the chair.
"If he takes longer than five minutes, he pays people," Corriveau joked later.
Another customer, James J. Walsh, said Soccorso has been cutting his hair for more than 10 years, dating back to when the barber was working in Somerville.
Walsh said although he moved out of the area, he drives down from Lowell to Fast Phil’s to get his brush cut he adopted five years ago.
Soccorso said Walsh has had different styles over the years, including the mullet.
To that Walsh just shook he head in sheepish acknowledgement.
Though he would not confirm the guarantee, Soccorso does take pride in his fast haircuts. There's even a reversed clock on one wall that allows customers to look in the mirror and watch the minutes pass.
Quick tut-tuts are not his only trick. As a youngster, Soccorso said he almost joined the circus as a kid until he found out the pay was miserable. Still, he managed to become an excellent juggler.
He uses the talent to entertain his young customers, who come in for haircuts, as he tosses three bowling pins, which he catches, releases and then in a grand gesture balances two of the bowling pins on each other.
Fluent in three languages, through his work and travel, Soccorso said he has met his sports heroes and other extraordinary characters whose pictures paper his walls and whose stories fill the barber’s shop.
Many of the pictures are from Soccorso’s 16-year tenure as an usher at the TD North Garden and the original Boston Garden, he said.
In one picture, Bill Russell looks out from one picture that has a cigar attached to it.
"Fast Phil" Soccorso clips the head of long-term customer James J. Walsh. Walsh said he commutes from Lowell for his regular brush cut. Alewife Photo by Neil W. McCabe
Tom Brady smiles on one wall as he clutches one of the Superbowl trophies he helped the Patriots win.
There are autographed shots of Celtic Raef Lafrentz and the legendary Red Sox pitcher Luis Tiant, as well as two posters of Ted Williams that greet the customers as they walk in the shop.
The picture of Larry Bird lying on the parquet floor in pain occupies another spot on the wall, Soccorso said was taken near the end of the forward’s career.
Among the collectables, there is piece of the old Garden parquet floor, a brick from the original Boston Garden and a copy of Babe Ruth's 1927 contract.
Soccorso said he started working at the Boston Garden after year of frustration.
For years, friends had promised him tickets to the Bruins and Celtics, but it never panned out, he said.
Sick of relying on others, Soccorso said he figured the best way to get into the Garden was to work there.
Even though Fast Phil said he has witnessed the most storied games in Boston sports history, the retirement ceremonies are the memories he treasures most.
As the old athletes retire, the new ones coming up to take their place are not made of the same stuff, he said. "Players today are just so-so. When I was a kid, ballplayers were ballplayers. Now, they're just average to me."
Among the sport figures he said he has met are Mike Tyson and Pete Rose, but he sees most stars from a distance. "I see them for brief moments at practice. I don't really talk to them that much."
Many of the photos on the wall were taken by a photographer friend of his, such as the shot of him standing over the shoulder of tennis beauty queen Anna Kournikova that the two men set up for Soccorso to smile at the right time, he said.
Beyond sports, he has leveraged his usher job into seeing three ex-presidents at the 2004 Democratic National Convention and music acts like Aerosmith, Neil Young, Bon Jovi, Shania Twain, Celine Dion, Mariah Carey and Pearl Jam.
Looking forward, Soccorso said he loves taking on the challenge of owning his own business. "It was scary," he said. "I had no salary, no guarantees, just a maybe."
To keep moving, he markets his hair business at the Garden and at tennis and skating clubs.
Corriveau, the shop's next-door-neighbor, was one of the first customers, and he told all of his friends, he said.
"He has a good word of mouth," Corriveau said about Soccorso and the shop.
Through it all, it is the characters he meets that he said keeps him going. "I love the people. I see people from all walks of life."