November 25, 2011
Barber never out of style
91-year-old still going strong after 79 years of cutting hair
Guy Passeri has cut hair for five generations of a single family.
A barber for 79 years, Passeri’s roots are planted deep in his trade and he has garnered a host of loyal customers around Cortland.
At 91 years old, Passeri’s hands are just as steady as they were when he apprenticed for a master barber in Ceccano, Italy — his native town just southeast of Rome.
He started out at 12 years old.
Two years later, he was working in a barber shop outside the Vatican. In another two years, Passeri joined the rest of his family in New York, settling in Cortland County and working at Nick D’Adamio’s barber shop on Elm Street.
After fighting in World War II, he married D’Adamio’s daughter, Yolanda, started a family of his own, and continued with the work that to this day, is his passion.
“I still use a straight razor,” Passeri said.
But just before Passeri started the trade, his career nearly went another direction. At first, he wanted to be a mechanic.
“One of my cousin’s boyfriend (a mechanic) lost a finger, so my mother said, ‘You’re not going to be a mechanic,’” Passeri recalled. “So I said, ‘How about being a barber?’”
What Passeri said he enjoys most about barbering is meeting different people every day and seeing them come back.
“One family, John Bloodgood — I cut his grandfather down to his grandson,” Passeri said Tuesday. “In other words: five generations of the Bloodgoods.”
Bloodgood, 82, said Passeri was the first barber to cut his hair. It was during the late 1930s, at D’Admio’s shop, Bloodgood recalled.
“He’s always been a good guy,” Bloodgood said of Passeri. “He’d always have a big line to tell you.”
That has kept Bloodgood and his family coming back to Passeri for their haircuts.
Since 1972, Passeri has been barbering at his shop, the King’s Den, now on Tompkins Street. When he was 62 years old, he transferred ownership to John Wetherell.
Passeri still cuts hair with Wetherell, a fellow barber, at the King’s Den.
Passeri says he still considers himself as skilled a barber as he ever was. During an interview, he held up his right hand to prove it was still steady and straight.
“You make your own death sentence if you stop working,” Passeri said.
And Passeri has worked his way around.
“He used to do three barber shops in three cities in one day,” said his daughter Stephanie Passeri-Densmore.
For 21 years, he was a barber at Cornell University’s barber shop in the student union. While working at Cornell during the 1950s, Passeri would first drive to Seneca County in the early morning to shave the heads of recruits at Sampson Air Force Base.
Some other nights during that time, Passeri would still cut hair in D’Adamio’s shop.
His busy workweeks even caught the attention of a Central New York barber supplier, Al Hickock.
“He would go around Central New York delivering supplies and he said one time: ‘Guy, I go all over, wherever I go I find you!’” said Passeri-Densmore. “Because he would go in this big circle and my father was always one step ahead of him.”
In Passeri’s early days, the barber shop doubled as a social spot for most men. In between cutting hair, barbers would chat about local happenings, politics, and read the newspaper.
“There used to be 62 barbers in Cortland at that time, now there’s about six of us left,” Passeri said. “Everybody else — it’s salons.”
Passeri practices meticulously, paying close attention to how he trims hair around the ears and matching whatever style the customer wants.
Very little about barbering has changed since Passeri first picked up a pair of scissors, other than a greater emphasis on hairstyling and the styles of cutting hair that change as the years progress with different trends.
But no matter how busy Passeri got in his barber shop, there was always time for family, Passeri-Densmore recalled. Their family would gather each summer at DeRuyter Lake.
“That was family, on our spot,” Passeri-Densmore said.
But equally fond memories are of growing up spending time with her father and his customers in his barber shop.
“Families would come in together and I would see these kids get their first hair cuts,” Passeri-Densmore said. “I’ve seen them grow up and I remember seeing them as kids in the barber shop.”
She said her father’s example has shown her sisters and her own son, Noel Passeri, how to go the extra mile in any aspect of life.
“I have that example and I just find the enthusiasm,” said Passeri-Densmore, a teacher in the Cortland school district.
Passeri said he has no plans to quit anytime soon.
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