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Al's Barber Shop: A Renovated Space and New Ownership Bring This Alameda Institution to Life

By Marina I. Jokic

Opening its doors for the first time in 1953, Al's Barber Shop has built a legacy in Alameda, California, and still continues to serve the local community with zeal. Having gone through numerous owners and a major renovation, the shop has boldly entered a new era. Co-owner Joe Polissky gives us a glimpse of the long-standing history of the place and the people working there.

After original owner Al Vigna retired in 2014, he bequeathed Al's to his long-time protégé Nick Vlahos, fellow barber Brad Roberts, and Polissky himself. Moreover, Polissky and his business partners assumed the awesome responsibility of carrying Al's into a new era while keeping the original spirit alive.

"After a brief hiatus, Al's is back with an updated space, ready to provide our community with top notch service and quality," Polissky says. Filling the shoes of all the great barbers who had worked there before him was definitely intimating, he shares. He and his partners approached the venture with excitement but also a bit of trepidation. And who could blame them? The proud lineage of all of Al's barbers was a long one, a true dynasty of talent.

The history of its current owners started with Vlahos in 2005 when he began working there. A few years later, Roberts began discussing and planning Temescal Alley Barbershop with Vlahos, intending to open shop in Oakland. Shortly after, Polissky, having made Vlahos's acquaintance, was spending long hours learning the trade within the same 220 square feet of the original barber shop.

Soon enough, Vlahos and Roberts banded together to form the now widely acclaimed Temescal Alley Barbershop in early 2011. As Temescal Alley grew and expanded, Polissky, a trusted apprentice, naturally became their first employee. With an overwhelming response of customers who were well acquainted with the walk-in nature of the shop, the idea to have an appointment-based shop to support Temescal Alley quickly took shape.

Having already gotten their feet wet with Temescal, the trio felt ready for their next undertaking. Serendipitously happening to be at the right place at the right time as Vigna decided to retire in 2014, they were the most logical candidates to inherit his iconic shop. Vigna approached Vlahos about keeping the tradition alive that he had worked sixty one years to build.

The team of three took over the shop and soon after, the renovation project began. Even though the shop was essentially stripped to its studs, Polissky says, the team tried their best to preserve the style and layout of the space.

After nearly eight months of construction and the burning desire to just "get to work and cut some hair," Polissky says, Al's Barber Shop was reopened with apprentice Paul Ehat on February 3rd, 2015. "As the sixth team of owners since the late 1890's, there is no desire to reinvent the wheel but to keep that wheel greased and moving along for the next generation of barbers, whomever they may be," Polissky remarks.

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