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The old Town Hall
Ask most people in Solvay to tell you where the Town Hall is they'll probably (and correctly) say it's on Woods Road near the Village Hall and the Solvay Tigers Youth Center. (Ask them why there's both a Village Hall and a Town Hall and you may stump them, but for now that's neither here nor there.)

For oldtimers the Town Hall was this building on Milton Avenue at the intersection of Bridge Street. (That striped post in the upper right hand corner is the railroad barrier that came down to warn motorists of trains coming and going to the Solvay Process Company.)

I spent countless hours at Town Hall, not for any town business, but to get a haircut at Bonny Virginia's barber shop that occupied much of the first floor. I can't make it out for sure, but I think the sign in the large window in the center of the building may say "Barber Shop."

Bonny Virginia, a native of Abruzzi, Italy, was an amazing guy, though it took me many years to appreciate him. After all, it wasn't my idea to get a haircut. My father took me with him every two weeks or so. You didn't make appointments, you just showed up and took your chances – while Bonny took his dear, old sweet time. He was the one who gave me the impression haircuts too about 30 minutes. So if you showed up and there were five men or boys ahead of you, then you were in for a long wait.

That wait didn't bother my father because he invariably knew the people ahead of us and they'd talk village business, sports or what was happening at the Process (often called The Soda Ash). Seems almost everyone worked at the Solvay Process, though the village, small as it was, had other industries that employed many people, particularly Pass & Seymour and Halcomb Steel.

I'd try to pass the time by reading magazines, but Bonny didn't give you much of a choice, just a whole bunch of Police Gazettes that went back several months. My favorite memory involved a peanut dispenser. These were those small, heavily salted peanuts. I think they're called Spanish peanuts. All you needed was a penny and you'd get a handful. But peanuts didn't pass that much time. And they made you thirsty for drinks that weren't available.

Eventually the Town Hall was demolished and Bonny moved his business into his home on Hall Avenue. It was a much cozier space which prompted him to start making appointments for his shrinking customer base. Other barber shops had opened, including a popular spot (I believe) in the Westvale Plaza. Young people went elsewhere because Bonny didn't like crewcuts. More boys had them than not while I was in school and one reason I kept my hair longer was Bonnie's resistance to clipping it. With Bonny Virginia, the customer wasn't always right.

When I finally did get a crewcut it was from another barber. A year later I went away to college. Eventually I went back to Bonny for a few visits before I moved to Ohio, never again to live in Solvay.

Bonny Virginia continued to cut hair until 2000, the year he died, at age 98. He had been a self-employed barber for 80 years.

 
For another look at Solvay way back when, check out
the Solvay-Geddes Historical Society.
 
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