“It breaks your heart to see something happen to the place.”
94-year-old Norm Wrightson dropped into the iconic Fremantle barber shop that still bears his name this week to commiserate with current owner Morteza Shojaee, who’s facing a forced move when the Manning buildings are redeveloped by owner Silverleaf Investments.
The barber shop has been operating under the shadow of Freo’s town hall clocktower on William Street since it was opened by Mr Wrightson’s father and grandfather in 1933 as RE Wrightson. It’s to be replaced by a microbrewery, bar and restaurant that will stretch across to an alfresco area in the High Street Mall.
Still located behind the Norm Wrightson Hairway counter is a set of beautiful timber drawers hand-crafted by his uncle, which were used to store tobacco rations for soldiers and sailors after World War II.
“Well, with our heritage we started out with mum and dad in 1933, and they were living upstairs in the front room and my brother and I were out the back and we thought the place would go forever,” Mr Wrightson said. “We had a kitchen with a little cooktop stove, and the towels were hung out the back on the washing lines; every customer got a fresh towel.”
Under Silverleaf’s plans, the barber shop will head around the block to a space on Market Street between Warrens Menswear and Bao Lai Massage, but Mr Shojaee is vowing to put up a fight.
“With Fremantle, the whole thing is about the history — you can’t replicate it, you can’t change it,” Mr Shojaee told the Herald.
“We have customers who come in and say ‘I was here 25 years ago’ — they find the place with a blind eye.
“They come in and they bring their kids in, it’s generation after generation.
“It’s 85 years of our loyalty, but they don’t care about that,” he says of Silverleaf. “You know what they said? ‘That was with the previous owner.’ That’s convenient, isn’t it?”
Silverleaf owner Gerard O’Brien bought the Manning family estate in 2016, which stretches between the Federal Hotel on William Street, through the mall and up Market Street to the Newport Hotel.
Mr Shojaee has a slight trump card; being one of the building’s oldest tenants, he’s operating on a lease that doesn’t have a development clause so he can stay for now.
But it’s only got four years left to run and he expects he’ll be surrounded by noisy development until he’s forced out, and then there might be no offer of a new lease.
“A business can’t have that uncertainty,” he says.
Mr Shojaee is putting together a petition for customers to sign asking Silverleaf and the council to have a rethink about moving his shop.
Long-term mall newsagent Shepherds also looks to be facing an uncertain future, as it’s to make way for an office foyer, but doesn’t appear in a new location in Silverleaf’s plans.
Owners Tom and Vanda Dore said they weren’t in a position to comment at the moment.
Mr O’Brien was also unavailable for comment as he’s currently overseas.
by STEVE GRANT