After 50 years in the barber business, Vito Fulcini hangs his scissors and scissors. Knowing my responsibilities to his clients, Elmwood Avenue and his family, I decided to contact Vito to ask about his career and life in Buffalo.
But first, I wanted to know if he was enjoying his retirement or not.
“I missed it all,” he told me. “If I think about it, I can cry. I came to Buffalo in 1970 and graduated in 2020 – that’s 50 years. ”
Vito told me he hadn’t done anything since resigning due to the pandemic, but when the trip was safer, he planned to go on some trips.
If anyone deserves a few stories, this is Vito. She told me that for 50 years she had been loyal to her barber … to her clients. It’s pretty much standing around a barber’s chair! You might say that Vito was born to be a barber – it was always in his blood.
Vito was born in 1942 in Calabria, Italy.
“It was a tough time,” he told me. “My father died two months after I was born – he died in the war under Mussolini. I had one brother and one sister – no money, no running water, no heating, no sewer. We had nothing. At the end of the war, when we were released, I was able to come to America because my father had died in the war. I needed a sponsor – my uncle, but he was not married, so the American consulate said I could not go. But they kept my name on the list and finally said after 20 years that I could come to America. There was still no work in Italy – no one was making money. I wanted to get married, but they said I could have come to America if I hadn’t gotten married. Also, my mother had to go first so I could go. So we postponed the wedding and I went to America and got a Green Card. Then I returned to Italy and got married. After I got married, I could send my wife back to the United States….
In 1969, Vito first came to Buffalo. She had an uncle who was a construction worker and an older cousin who had passed away before her. At the time, Vito knew he wanted to be a barber. “But it was 1970, and no one was getting a haircut!” said Vito [laughing]. Everyone was growing their hair … that was the style. I was working as a barber at the time and he said there was no work for both of us, I had to go. I almost worked at Bethlehem Steel, but I knew I had to be a barber. I worked nights at Freezer Queen, but I didn’t work that much. I went to work at another barber shop and he eventually sold his barber shop to me. At the time, I didn’t understand the language, but I did could find out what people wanted. I went to the National Institute for Foreigners to learn the language, but only the basics. I learned more about the language than working as a barber, because I had to speak. ”
The shop Vito bought was on Elmwood Avenue, next to Mother Nature’s flower shop. He said he wanted to buy the building but could not afford it. The owner of the flower shop bought the building when Vito crossed the street to the former barber shop, which was empty. It will be the same store he worked on for decades to come. Vito Sartarosh had finally arrived.
One day, one of his customers offered to sell the post office across the street (eventually home to the Celelia restaurant) and Vito said he couldn’t afford it. But the customer insisted and told Vito that it would help him realize his dream of owning a commercial property. With little money to make and a client agreement on the mortgage, Vito suddenly lived with the American dream.
“What can I say about the people of Buffalo?” Vito asked. “They’re the best! Everyone always wanted to help. They always wanted to know if I needed anything or not. They even offered to sweep the store.”
Eventually, someone bought a building where Vito was a barber. At that moment, the new owner signed a contract with Vito. If Vito sold him an old post office building (Cecelia), he would give Vito a free rent at the barber shop for five years. This sounded a good deal for Vito, who agreed to the deal.
“Thank God I did this before the pandemic,” Vito said. “I knew it was time to close the business. The pandemic accelerated the process. Open, close, open, close … Thank God no one in the store got sick. I did my best to be back as long as I could. There were so many people who regretted my departure. I am now 78 years old, with two sons and 5 grandchildren. It’s time for me to spend more time with my family. ”
I asked Vito to tell me about some thoughtful and memorable moments he said about it: “I had a boring life. [laughing]. There were a few trips to Italy, but I was always working, years open from 8am to 6pm. At the time, it was the best as a boss myself. I once tried to get someone to work for me, and it turned out that he was a terrible hairdresser – this was the last time I hired someone. ”
Vito said he owes his wife so much today. “He was in charge of everything and everything. When we first came here, she was 19 and I was 28 years old. Our first house was a double, but we sold it and bought a house, which was much easier. I never became rich, but I was able to buy a house and then a bigger house. Now I live in a big house and it’s just me and my wife. I couldn’t do it without her — I couldn’t do it without her. ”
In the end, Vito said it was hard to get to America. “It was worth the wait though. Everything worked for me. Funny – the first customer I’ve always had from day one – his name is Michael Martin. She was the last shopper I had when the store closed. If it doesn’t tell you about my experience in Buffalo … ”
As for me, Vito gave me some food for thought when we ended our conversation. “Your father was a great customer of mine,” he told me. “Once he gave me money in advance to shave my head because you didn’t like the fact that you were going to grow long … but you never showed up! [laughing].
Funny, I remember my dad telling me that Vito was patiently waiting to give me a good old cut, but I couldn’t tell if he was joking or not.
Now I know.