February 10, 2024

Farewell to the rebellious hair salon that invented Sydney’s Saturday afternoon

By Amber Schultz
February 10, 2024 — 4.30pm
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A hairdressing salon that helped change the way Sydney’s businesses operate on the weekends is set to shut its doors after 40 years of service.

Sam and Mary Pellegrino became unwitting players in the fight for Saturday afternoon shopping in 1986, just two years after they had opened Pellegrino Hairdressing in Hurstville, in southern Sydney.

In June of that year, the couple were running slightly over time and still finishing off two clients’ cuts at 1pm. Legislation dictated that all stores had to close at 12.45pm on a Saturday.

Mary and Sam Pellegrino changed Sydney’s Saturday trading hours in the ’80s, but are now closing their salon after 40 years. Credit: Sam Mooy

A union representative knocked on their door about 1.05pm and Sam was fined $75 for staying open 20 minutes beyond closing time.

He faced jail time or a maximum penalty of $1000, half of which would go to the Australian Worker Union representative who fined him.

“We didn’t think we were doing anything wrong,” Sam said. “I thought it was wrong, and rude, to send people away if we were running over time.“

Two other nearby hairdressers were also fined.

Their defiance made the Pellegrinos famous, and their salon wildly popular. They appeared on A Current Affair, had competing offers from news channels for exclusives, and made newspaper front pages.

“We had so much support from all over Australia. We had people from Western Australia sending cheques to cover the fine, letters from the Northern Territory … it was unbelievable”, Mary said.


Michael, Sam, Olivia and Mary Pellegrino in the Hurstville family hair salon.

While the pair had offers to pay their legal costs and fight the fine in court, in September that year Sam pleaded guilty alongside two other hairdressers, who had also stayed open past trading hours.

He was ordered to pay an additional $21 in court costs, $20 in witness expenses and $150 in professional costs.

But the court case started a national conversation: just two years later, Monday to Saturday trading hours were deregulated in the NSW, allowing businesses to operate at any hour.

Michael, Sam and Olivia Pellegrino in the Hurstville family hair salon.

In 2008, shop trading hours were deregulated in the state for all days except Good Friday, Easter Sunday, the morning of Anzac Day, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

Small Business Australia director Bill Lang said extending opening hours had a major impact both economically and societally.

“The most important thing in any small business is being able to meet customer’s needs and preferences,” he said.

“Extending trading hours, particularly in businesses serving people like those getting their hair cut, to outside working hours was trailblazing. The more businesses are available for people when they’re needed, the more productive the economy is.”

However, Pellegrino Hairdressing will close its doors on Tuesday. Mary has been diagnosed with cancer, and between the treatments and checkups, the couple are struggling to juggle it all.

The Pellegrinos hope they may eventually be able to re-open with limited hours and clientele, but for now, the focus is on Mary’s health.

It’s a huge hit to the local community: customers are more like family than clientele, and many have been with them for decades. They help themselves to tea and coffee, and pitch in to sweep floors when the salon is busy.

“We couldn’t work forever, and we had discussed retirement, but neither of us are quite ready,” Mary said.

“It’s really sad that we just had to close the doors and walk away.”

Amber Schultz is a reporter for The Sun-Herald in Sydney.Connect via Twitter or email.


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