Since Bartolomeo Mazzeo opened it in 1934, Bart’s Barber Shop has been a fixture in Sea Cliff. For decades, Sea Cliffians who have walked past the shop, in the heart of the village’s downtown, on Sea Cliff Avenue, have seen Bartolomeo or his son, Joe, cutting the hair of generations of North Shore residents.
Now, after 86 years, Bart’s will be closing, because Joe, its owner, says it is time for him to retire. He is now 78, has worked in the shop since the early 1960s and has run it since 1977. When the coronavirus pandemic forced him to close temporarily in March, Mazzeo said, he got a taste of retirement before reopening in the summer. At his age, he said, making the closure permanent is something that feels right.
Mazzeo said he would only sell the space, at 272 Sea Cliff Ave., to another barber. That way, he said, he could still go back once or twice a week to cut hair when he wants to. His wife, Diane, said she could never see him leaving the shop behind.
“To my husband,” she said, “it’s the place that’s his home, and where he’s the most comfortable.”
His father, Joe said, emigrated from a small town in the Benevento province of Italy with his family in 1926, when he was 11. When he reached adulthood, he began working at Bowman’s, a Sea Cliff barbershop on Sea Cliff Avenue, next to what is now the Stenson Memorial Children’s Library, where he learned to cut hair. He took over the business in 1934, and renamed it Bart’s. He purchased the 272 Sea Cliff Ave. property in 1962.
After Bart was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1977, Joe said, he became the sole owner and operator of the shop, and Bart died three years later. Although he has had some people work alongside him over the years, Mazzeo said he has mostly worked by himself, something that he said he enjoys.
One of his most loyal friends and customers is John Duff. Although he grew up in Levittown, Duff said he fell in love with Sea Cliff while attending Catholic school at St. Boniface. During one of his many trips to the village, in 1978, he recalled, he walked into Bart’s and met Mazzeo, whom he describes as a “wonderful guy.”
Although his job in human resources at American Airlines took him to Dallas, Duff said he would still fly up to New York to get a haircut at Bart’s whenever he could. To this day, four generations of Duff’s family have had their hair cut by Mazzeo, the youngest being his grandchildren. This is especially telling of his loyalty to Mazzeo, he said, because he, his children and grandchildren now live in Scotland. An ocean apart, the two men have remained friends.
Duff said he admired both Mazzeo’s dedication to his customers and the fact that Bart’s has maintained its old-school-barbershop feel for decades. If Norman Rockwell were still alive, he said, there would be paintings of the shop in the Saturday Evening Post.
“It was never just getting your haircut,” Duff said. “You go, sit in your chair and he always reminded me of seeing Floyd the Barber in ‘The Andy Griffith Show.’”
Mazzeo’s kindness has perhaps no better representation than his relationship with Amy Peters, organizer and manager of the Sea Cliff Farmers Market and a close friend of Diane’s. Peters said she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017, and chemotherapy caused much of her three feet of hair to fall out. Her hair was always a part of her identity, she said, and losing it only magnified the trauma of her illness.
When her hair loss was becoming too much to bear, Peters said, she walked into Bart’s and asked Mazzeo to shave her head. He gave her a buzz cut on the spot, and told her to come by the next day when business was slow for a full shave. Not only was the shave free, she said, but Mazzeo took the time to listen to her and make her difficult circumstances a little easier.
“He was just really, really kind and empathetic,” Peters recounted. “He wouldn’t take my money, and it just felt like it was such a generous and kind thing that he did for me. He made me feel comfortable in a very uncomfortable situation.”
Lifelong Sea Cliff resident Saul Schachter echoed Peters’s admiration for Mazzeo. Schachter has had his hair cut by Bart and now Joe for decades, he said, and he is sad to see Bart’s close. Everybody knows Joe the Barber, he said.
“He’s very caring with his customers,” Schachter said. “Whether it’s somebody who’s an old veteran or kids, he treats them with respect and genuine warmth.”
Mazzeo said that serving Sea Cliff for as long as he did was something he would always treasure. He said he had met all kinds of people in his nearly 60 years of cutting hair, and although he isn’t ready to hang up his scissors entirely, he hoped he’d had as positive an influence on the village’s residents as they’ve had on him.
“Sea Cliff is one of those places where you can find things about yourself that you didn’t know were there,” Mazzeo said. “You get to know a lot about yourself and about the nice people who live and work here. It’s a good feeling.”