Little Joe’s 50 Years On Cutting Edge
Friday, October 5, 2007 – By HEATHER KAYS, HERALD NEWS
NORTH HALEDON — It’s half old-school barber shop, half cutting-edge salon.
Walk into Little Joe’s Haircutters on Belmont Avenue and the place seems perfectly ordinary. But within a few moments, you notice the subtle differences.he scissor-and-comb style of haircutting, abandoned in most barber shops. The straight-razor shaves, ditto. The hair extensions, decidedly not old-school. The contemporary Web site that announces the place as a “full service salon for men, women & children.”…
And you don’t need an appointment to get your hair cut.
It’s all family-run and family-oriented, thanks to Joe Lombardo Sr., 72, and his son Joe Jr., 41. The father-son duo and Little Joe’s other 10 employees are celebrating the business’s 50th anniversary, as the tradition introduced by Joe Sr. progresses with the innovative ideas of Joe Jr.
Joe Sr., known to many of his customers as “Little Joe,” moved to the United States from St. Andrea, Italy, in 1955.
“I came in May with the Andrea Doria,” Lombardo said, recalling the doomed ship on which he sailed. “After that, it sunk. Thank God I wasn’t there for that.”
With two years of experience as a barber in Rome, Lombardo — who only spoke Italian at the time — struggled to find work. Then he was hired by Hollywood Joe, a locally well-known barber with a shop on Ellison Street.
“At the time, it was one of the most beautiful barber shops that there was,” Lombardo said. “It was very popular.”
After two years there, he decided to open his own shop at 100 Belmont Ave. in Paterson.
“It was very hard for me to start a business then,” Lombardo said. “I couldn’t talk English very well.”
Lombardo recalled that haircuts cost $1.25 when he opened that first shop.
“I recall that the style for men in the 1950s was mostly flat tops,” Lombardo said. “Then when Elvis Presley was popular, all the teenagers wanted to look like him with the long sideburns. They either wanted to look like Elvis or like Tony Curtis, with the wave in front.”
Lombardo demonstrated where the wave would be, fashioned with a pre-hair dryer hot comb. “We were doing very well until the Beatles came along. Then we slowed down. Barber shops were very slow at the time. In fact, I had to let two of my barbers go because the business just wasn’t there.”
While many barber shops closed, Lombardo said he felt that he needed to make a change. So in 1965, he began hiring female barbers and turned the business into a unisex salon.
From then on, the business flourished. After six years, Lombardo had to move his shop to 345 Belmont Ave. in Haledon. In 1996, Lombardo again expanded, at the advice of his son to the current location at 845 Belmont Ave. In North Haledon.
But the more things changed for Little Joe’s, the more they stayed the same.
All his employees are hired as apprentices and trained by Lombardo Sr.
“I try to teach all my new employees how to shave,” he said.
“The way we cut hair with the comb and scissors, that’s the old-fashioned way to do it,” said his son. “A lot of the girls that work here did not learn that in school. They learned it here.”
Lisa Lombardo, who met Joe Jr. in 1994 while working at the shop and later married him, said her father-in-law treats his employees and customers like family. His brother Mario has worked in the shop for 47 years. Both he and his nephew learned the trade by watching the elder Lombardo.
Lombardo Jr. now manages the shop while his father works part-time, the result of developing heart problems in 1986. Lombardo Sr. frequents the shop whenever he is not vacationing in Florida or Italy. He shuffles around, exuding energy and good will, chatting with customers, cutting hair regularly.
“He’s always smiling,” said his son. “He’s always joking around with people. It’s something I wish everyone could learn from, and most people do.”
Jerry Nardella, a lawyer from Montclair, has been going to Little Joe’s for 44 years. Nardella said he still runs into old friends every time he goes for a haircut.
“I still see a lot of the people from high school,” he said. “I even see their children and grandchildren.”
“Back then, he used to wait for me for a couple of hours,” Lombardo Sr. said.
“Yeah, you always had a crowd,” Nardella said.
“I always had a crowd with that hot comb,” Lombardo Sr. said.
“Enough with the hot comb,” Lombardo Jr. said, with a laugh.
Eventually, the father will turn the business over to his son, already a part owner. He gets choked up when he talks about leaving.
“I don’t know what else to say because I am getting a little emotional about this,” he said, as the smile left his face for the first time all afternoon. “Fifty years is a long time, but if I could I would start and do it all over again.
“It’s still in my blood. I still need to see my customers. How could I not come back when I have been cutting his hair since he was a kid,” he said, motioning toward Nardella. “Tell me, how?”
Reach Heather Kays at 973-569-7157 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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