Continentale Hair Salon
Continentale Hair Salon
Continentale Hair Salon, with a well-appointed maroon exterior and simple but bold letters across the top, has been at 214 Mass Ave for over 38 years. When I entered this hair salon I was greeted warmly by Joey DiSpena, the cheerful Italian-American owner who started this business back when he was an impetuous nineteen-year old.
I asked him what his space was like when he first saw it in the late 70s and he answered, “I looked at this place, it was for rent. Sunday night, it was dusk. There had been a fire inside. The front was all boarded up with wood and a padlock. I looked at it with a flashlight, not knowing what I was seeing. I just said ‘I’ll take it!’ I was young, and never thought I could fail.”
Originally from Cambridge, Joey opened Continentale when he was single. One recent afternoon he looked over to see his kids and grandkids present in the salon – three generations of family sitting with him. He feels lucky to have found something he loves to do. For him, work is an escape, a place to come where he can help others. He views Tuesday, the day he opens each week, as his first day of business and Saturday, when he closes for the week, as his last. He never looks back: “I don’t rest on my laurels, it doesn’t matter what I did…that’s history. I always look forward...You are always grateful that you made it another week.” This fresh attitude each week allows Joey to always give his best to others.
He points out that a lot of the business is about forming a bond with the client. “It’s building trust and relationships over the years. I am their therapist! What’s amazing to me is people come in and they feel comfortable in my space. It’s nice, it’s gratifying. To be able to help somebody. People have said that they have left here feeling better – in their hair and in their mind!”
“People I know who were single, they got married, pregnant and had a child. The child grew up, they got married, they had children. And all in the matter – like it happened yesterday. It’s mind-boggling.” He remembers Arlington being a very different place, more local. Back then, his clients had grown up or lived in Arlington for many years. He is proud of the fact that he still does haircuts and styling or coloring for those same customers. Ann is a customer who has been coming to Continentale since it opened in 1978. She comes here from Woburn and says that wherever Joey will go, she will follow. I asked her to describe him in one word. She says, “Amazing!”
The salon inside has gone through a few renovations over the past four decades. What one sees today are gleaming salon chairs, a spotless floor, walls lined with mirrors and a few select hair products for sale. There are comfortable chairs to sit in and numerous magazines to peruse while you wait your turn. Joey has a rotating staff of 5-6 people helping him and he is firm about not overbooking his clients. As he quips, “I like to run my business to be slow and steady as opposed to really busy. Almost like a blue-chip stock. We’re always in the same space.”
He supports and appreciates the changes that have taken place in the neighborhood. He says it feels more European, more walkable and friendly. He always bumps into people he knows when he steps outside. He likes the vibrancy and human connection on the street.
Being on the same block as the Capitol Theatre has helped. It attracts people from Greater Boston and beyond. They might come here to see a movie after which they might stop by, look in, come in. According to Joey, every business here is very complementary to the others. It’s a neighborhood where one can get a lot done. You don’t even need a car. “Small businesses like this, in order to survive, we have to have relationships with people and care...dot our ‘I’s and cross our ‘T’s. Sometimes I look around, people from miles away coming here. I think there is lot of space between me and them. They come that distance, you have to step up your game and not take them for granted. It’s such a tribute.”
Recently, a woman phoned the salon and asked for Joey. He said, “It’s me, speaking.” She raved about the haircut she had at Continentale. So he asked her how long ago she had come in--was it 6 weeks ago, or 8 weeks? She answered, “25 years!” She had moved away and was back in town. She now comes to him regularly for her haircuts and styling. Joey’s philosophy – “You have to stay humble. You are very lucky when that happens. Never get bigger than what you think you are.”