March 23, 2019

Barber’s scissors still sharp after half a century

Always in style

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Ang DiPietro talks about his life as a barber at his Hubbard Street barber shop in Cortland.

Haircuts today are the same as they were in the 1950s, said Angelo DiPietro. They’re a “high end military cut.” The styles keep coming back.

DiPietro, 76, of Cortlandville, has been cutting hair since he was 18, when he got out of high school, for almost 58 years.

“I opened the shop here in 1961,” he said.

DiPietro and his wife, Benita, 69, are licensed barbers at Angelo’s Barber Shop at 34 Hubbard St., the site of Angelo’s parent’s grocery — DiPietro’s Grocery Store.

The shop is full of Cortland memorabilia — Ronnie James Dio posters, pictures of the former Clocktower, the grocery shop in its heyday, Cortland County Historical Society books and a 1940-era calendar.

“Ronnie Dio — he always came here when he came into town,” said Angelo DiPietro. “We grew up together in the neighborhood,” he said of the late rock singer, born Ronald James Padavona, one of Cortland’s superstars.

“I do old-fashioned regular cuts,” he said. He’s seen the Beatles’ bowl cuts, the long hair styles on men, mohawks and etchings onto scalps.

DiPietro did an etching of the word, “dome,” for his son in the ’90s when the teen went to a basketball game in Syracuse. He can’t remember what the occasion was. “It was a long time ago.”

He just did a lightning bolt etching for a kid. “I really don’t do that any more,” he said.

DiPietro does “farm cuts, regular cuts … It doesn’t matter. When you do it so many years, it doesn’t matter.”

“People ask me, when will he retire,” Benita said. “When we bury him.”

“I enjoy the people,” Angelo DiPietro said.

Angelo DiPietro, left, and his wife, Benita DiPietro.

Benita DiPietro has been a barber and stylist for 12 years, securing the barber license required so she can shave necks and faces, as well as styling, coloring and cutting.

“It’s nice to have an old barber shop here,” she said. “It’s like the days of Andy Griffith.”

They get last-minute calls: going to the prom, to a wedding: Can we get our hair done?” said Benita. “If we can do it, we’ll do it.”

“I come up frequently,” said Jae Harris of Houston, who moved out of the area after a lifetime in Homer. “I retain my hairdresser and my doctors.”

She’ll be back in February for her dad’s birthday and hit up her dentist. She was here in December and got her hair done by Benita.

“I really like her. I get a color and a trim, sometimes a cut. I am pushing 60. I need that. I know they say that age is just a number, but come on.”

The shop is “really cool,” she said. “It’s so family,” she said. “I like hearing about the family. What the kids are doing. I hear about the relatives.”

She likes the feeling of nostalgia in the shop.

Angelo DiPietro, left, and his wife, Benita DiPietro.Ang DiPietro and his wife Bonita DiPietro have the clock hand from the original Cortland clocktower at their barber shop on Hubbard Street.

“It’s small-time stuff. I miss that living in Houston. It’s a big city and it can feel very empty,” Harris said. The barbershop is a sanctuary. “It’s a sense of community. It’s really important. That’s why I make a point to come back here.”

The DiPietro’s customer base ranges the spectrum. There’s not any one part of society they can care for and they do children on up to people in their late 80s and early 90s. They work Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, accepting “drop ins” as well as appointments.

Benita said she was worried about working so closely with her husband at first. She used to work as a decorator and home decor host and cared for the couple’s children. “He would work all day. I used to work at 5 … When I decided to do this, well, he can’t fire me. It’s really not bad. We get along good, 47 years,” she said.

“It’s easy. It goes in one ear and out the other,” Ang DiPietro joked.

Fred Lutz of Homer has been a customer of Ang DiPietro’s about 25 years. On Jan. 3, he was at the shop to return a keyboard he borrowed. The barber has a passion for computers.

Lutz’s cut: “Take it all off,” he said. “I am getting to the point where I could shave my head.”

There’s a lot of nostalgia here,” Lutz said. “He’s been in business a long time … There used to be a lot of barbershops around. Now, not so many.”

Lutz noted that Ang DiPietro’s older brother operates a barbershop in Homer, in back of Dasher’s.

“I came down to chat,” Lutz said. “It’s the barbershop, the news source. We talk about what moves into town, what moves out of town, what’s going on. ‘How was your New Year’s.’”

There wasn’t any news on this particular day, but people were streaming into the shop and conversations reached a hubbub as the barbers got to work. There is no typical day. There could be five customers, there could be 25, Benita said.

“Stick around, you learn a lot,” Lutz said.

Benita said if the conversation turns to politics, she just listens. “I don’t get into politics.

Benita said men talk about women yak-yak-yakking. “They are just as bad as women.”

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