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.”