Everyone Has a Story to Tell

Barber looks back on half a century of hair

When Joe Figliomeni sets down his comb and scissors and unplugs his clippers at the end of the month, it will mark the end of a tradition on the Danforth. Joe, 75, has been cutting hair since he arrived in Canada in 1955.

“I think it’s time,” Joe said, “after 57 years.” Joe was a teenager in his native Calabria, Italy, when he learned the barbering trade. He said that he managed to get his certificate translated into English, and that helped him get his licence here in Canada.  He arrived in Toronto July of 1955.

“I had always heard that Canada was such a cold place,” Joe recalled. “But when I got here the weather here was beautiful… just like home!” A friend immediately set Joe up with a barber who ran a shop in the Junction area of Toronto. This was before the Bloor-Danforth subway was built and Joe took the streetcar every day from Greenwood and Danforth where he was living with his sister.

“I couldn’t speak a word of English, and couldn’t ask for directions,” he said. “There was a gas station at the corner of Greenwood and Danforth back then. When I saw that big Texaco sign, I knew I had to get off the streetcar. I thought to myself, if that Texaco station ever closed, I’d be lost.” A couple of years later he took a job at Nasello’s Cigar Store and Barber Shop at Linsmore and Danforth, and stayed there for 15 years. That was also where Joe met his wife.

“I couldn’t marry the boss’ daughter,” he said. “She was only 10 years old. So I married the boss’ niece!”

The couple were married for 48 years, until she passed away from cancer a year and a half ago. In 1963 Joe ended up at his present location at 2881 Danforth, in a shop owned by an Austrian.

“I walked in and asked the fellow if he was interested in selling his business,” Joe recalled. “A week later I owned the shop. And I’ve been here 41 years.”

Those 41 years have seen a lot of customers fill the chairs. While I was there Mike came in, and Joe explained that Mike was one of his first customers. Now Mike’s son also drops by for a trim every so often. Other customers come from far and wide to have Joe tend to their hair.

“I have customers from Port Perry, Lindsay, Oshawa, Midland, a father and son from Trenton,” Joe said proudly, and then recounted a humourous story about one of his long-standing out-of-town clients who, as Joe said, was always a bit of a jokster.

“He was sitting at the back with another customer of mine who had brought along his father  visiting from Peru. He turned to me and said, ‘Holy cow, Joe! I thought I came from far away to get my hair cut. This guy comes from Peru!’”

It’s been an emotional time for Joe’s many friends and clients since he announced his retirement.

“People have been coming in hugging me, and taking photos. It’s like leaving a big family,” he said. Joe plans to travel back to Calabria later this summer to visit his home town for the first time since he left in 1955.

I thought this might be the time to ask if he was one of those wealthy barbers I had read about. Joe chuckled, put his scissors and comb down, and rummaged around near his cash register. He turned to me and proudly displayed a copy of The Wealthy Barber, by David Chilton.

“I’ve got the book,” he said. “I’m just not the guy in the book.”


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14 comments

I’m so proud of my Uncle Joe and would like to congratulate him on such a wonderful accomplishment in his life. I hope now he can kick up his heels and do some traveling because he deserves it!

Joe is my Uncle (my mother’s brother). As far as barber’s go….he is one of the best. All of his customers will be scatching their heads trying to figure out who to go to for a good hair cut after he closes his doors. Enjoy your retirement Uncle Joe but keep your scissors handy…you never now when a fmaily member will come calling for a quick clip!

Hola from Puerto Vallarta from Cathy & Mary Manarin. Congratulations on your retirement.We wish you a long and healthy retirement. You have worked long and hard. Enjoy your vacation in Italy.

Uncle Joe was our best man at our wedding 50 years ago and he really is the best. The best barber and kind uncle that we love and respect. We are proud of him and amazed that anyone can work this trade for over 50 years. Enjoy your retirement and give your hands a rest. Love you much and think of you all the time. Love Vincenzo and Teresa

Congrats to our Uncle Joe from your great nieces and nephews, Maria D’Astoli, Anna & John Pirrotta, Dominic & Franca Reale, Carla and Peter Broughton. We love and wish you all the best. Have a great time in Italy this summer.

Congratulations on a well earned honour Joe.

You have been a great barber with a fabulous personality all of your life.

No wonder your customers adore you and have travelled miles to get their hair cut.

What a wonderful testimony to your fine character and hard working ethics.

I am sure Gina is smiling down on you and so very very proud of you.

Now is your time to sit back and relax ……..enjoy every precious moment of your retirement.

Love Cousins Helen and Dominic …………..

Congratulations Joe! You can be proud of yourself and your long career.
You got to know many people throughout those years and they are going to
miss you for sure. You can be satisfied with a job well done!
At 75years old you deserve to retire and to have some time for relaxation and travel. Have a wonderful trip home.
Clara Nasello

Congratulations Joe!

One of my fondest childhood memories was coming to the shop with my Nonno and listening in to all the conversations in Italian and English as you went about cutting hair. I think Nonno would go at a time when he knew he would have a long wait so that he could meet and chat with his fiends.

Best wishes for a happy and relaxing retirement.

Laura

Congratulations Joe…after all these years of being a mainstay on the Danforth. Always a confident and happy smile greeted each and every customer. You cut not only the hair of my father and brothers but of my children as well. Scores of relatives frequented the barber shop as well as thousands of others you came for the haircut, the jokes and the fun atmosphere.

All the best Joe.
Ed and Demi Nasello

Joe-
My very best wishes to you in your well deserved retirement!! Your dear wife, Gina, was a
great friend of mine and I miss her deeply.
Enjoy your trip to Calabria !!

Congratulations and all the best Joe.

I had my last haircut at Joe’s today. The Danforth will not be the same with your retirement. Thanks for many a great cut over the years. Thanks too for making your shop a second home for many of us that grew up in the area.

God Bless.
Iain

Congrats Uncle Joe, a job well done! Rest, relax and enjoy this time doing the things you love. You are always loved by everyone who you seem to know. Always a kind word for all and always with a smile and a good joke to tell. We know why your faithful customers are sad and happy at the same time to see you retire.

You deserve it.

Cicero Family

I say Thanks for the many great years of service on the Danforth and Congratulations on your retirement.

From my “long-haired” days when I use to say “just below the ears” to my “near retirement” years, I have since thought back knowing Joe has cut my hair through all my life’s memorable moments.

Thanks once again, and you’ll be missed!!

From a “neighbourhood kid”
John Tait and brother Gord

Joe,

I know you have had enough and are facing a well earned retirement. However, you had been cutting my hair for over 55 years. Boy do I miss you! All the best.

Nick

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