Although owner Joe Mazzeo announced in October that legendary Sea Cliff establishment Bart’s Barber Shop would be closing, the shop is still open today. Mazzeo, 78, said he is passionate about selling the 272 Sea Cliff Ave. space to another barber. That way, he said, he could retire while still coming in to cut hair part time when he wanted to.
Bart’s has been a cornerstone of downtown Sea Cliff since Joe’s father, Bartolomeo, an Italian immigrant, opened the shop in 1934. Joe has worked in the shop since the early 1960s and has run it since 1977, becoming known village-wide as “Joe the Barber.” When the coronavirus pandemic forced him to close temporarily in March, he 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 business has been slow since he reopened, something he said is commonplace in businesses such as his. However, he said he is optimistic for 2021, especially as the weather gets nicer and people are walking around outside more often.
“I’m okay with not getting anything right now,” Mazzeo said, “but it is a new year and I’m sure new people will be looking. I’m still happy and I still love what I’m doing.”
Mazzeo has become known over the years as not only the provider of a great haircut, but also as a friendly staple of the community. People have always felt confident in sharing their problems with him, he said, which has only heightened during the pandemic.
“No matter if it’s a doctor, a dentist, a lawyer, everybody has been hurt by this,” Mazzeo said. “It’s just not the same . . . [The pandemic] creates a lot of problems and a lot of people are hurting, so I’m just glad that I have my own place. I keep myself busy, there’s always something to do.”
Mazzeo’s wife, Diane, said retirement is the right choice for her husband. It is difficult being the sole proprietor of a business, she said, especially when business has slowed down like it has. However, she said the slowdown is strictly due to the pandemic and people’s fears about going out rather than Joe’s ability, which she said is still top-notch. Regardless, she said Joe takes proper precautions when servicing customers, as he takes temperatures, wears a mask and has hand sanitizer available.
Diane said she hopes her husband can find rest in retirement while still doing what he loves. This, as well as the shop’s rich history, is why she too hopes the space can be sold to another barber.
“Of course, both of us would love to it still be a barber shop because of the tradition of 80-some-odd years,” Diane said. “It’s kind of upsetting to people that it might not be there.”
Roughly 8 years ago, on the 50th anniversary of Mazzeo beginning his work at the stop, the village made how much it loves him through a celebration on Sea Cliff Avenue. The Creative Arts Studio, which operated just a couple of buildings down from Bart’s from 2005 until its closure this past August, hosted the event, which saw people from all over the village present Mazzeo with photos and memories of the times they had together. Diane said Joe was “flying high” for a week afterwards.
Tracy Warzer, who owned the studio, said Sea Cliff is a unique community because of people like Mazzeo. The studio was always a place that brought people together and celebrated community, she said, so she thought that would be a perfect way to demonstrate that people could come together and have a common space to celebrate him and his business.
“He’s a local icon and the fact that he’s been on Sea Cliff Avenue as a business for so long is a testament to him and to his father that started the business and his personality,” Warzer said. “He is one of the most interesting and friendly business owners on Sea Cliff Avenue. He knows the community, he knows generation after generation [of residents], and they come to see him.”
Sea Cliff Mayor Edward Lieberman said he has been a longtime patron of Bart’s and Mazzeo has always been a friendly, cheerful presence in the village. Several years ago, he said he dressed up as Joe the Barber from Halloween, and from that moment on, they developed an affinity that went far past barber and patron.
“I always thought he brought a lot of character to the village, as well as a good haircut,” Lieberman said.
Diane said she and Joe would like to travel more in retirement, as they have friends in other countries, such as Scotland and Italy. She said she also wants him to be able to enjoy the part of him that is not Joe the Barber, helping him relax as he moves on to a post-work life.
No matter what, Sea Cliff is his home, Mazzeo said, and he does not plan on leaving any time soon.
“Sea Cliff’s not a bad place to be,” he said. “Not a bad place at all.”