A half-century of hair

Photo by Tom Steiner for The Citizen

Jimmy Viscusi started cutting hair in 1965, and he has not stopped since, in part because it has been such a strong family tradition.

His father, Dom, had a shop on the North Side before moving to Bellevue and, after that, to West View in the 1950s, where he was the "go-to" barber who knew how to duplicate all of the latest trends in young men's hairstyles --- the fade, the Ivy League look, the flat top.

And then his life ended in a boating accident on Lake Erie in 1964.

By that time, barbering was in Jimmy's blood. He had attended barber school in 1964, so he was prepped to take over the family business for the next few years.

Following his stint in the Army --where he cut hair, of course -- he completed his beautician's license in 1979 and then moved on to bigger things that included his six-chair, full-service salon on Perry Highway.

As exciting and fast-paced as managing a shop with a staff of 10 operators could be, he closed in the mid-1980s, worked with some cousins in their barbering businesses, and then went back to being independent by opening Jimmy V's on Church Avenue in Ben Avon in 2003, a place he hopes to remain for the next 10 years, at least.

Why?

More like, "Why not?"

"I like working with people from different walks of life. I get an education without going to school," Jimmy said. "And I love creating styles to make them look good."

Over the years, the styles have changed, but Jimmy's dedication to his profession has remained constant.

"I'm here to please the clients. Sometimes people aren't sure of what they want, but my sign up by the mirrors says it all: 'Keep calm and let the barber handle it.'"

Jimmy has handled every aspect of the profession. Cuts, hot towel shaves, perms, facials, and he has worked to keep up with trends. In addition to his barbering and beautician degrees, he completed a Roefler course "…to keep learning all of the tricks of the trade."

Although he describes his clients as being mostly middle age, his ability to keep up with those "tricks of the trade" has attracted some younger customers. Alex Zbozny, 16, described his trip to Jimmy's as being "an awesome experience. He is an incredibly nice guy, friendly and fun to be around. He gives good, quality cuts and he's all-around enjoyable and welcoming."

Age of his clientele has nothing to do with his barbering, but he gave two of his most memorable cuts to centenarians, one of them at age 102, and the other when the gentleman - -Angelo Cammerata, the legendary bartender from West View -- turned 100.

Of course, even the most dedicated professional has to have some down-time from his trade. So what is it for Jimmy? He loves his time with his wife, Susan, and their children, and he used to enjoy riding his Yamaha 1100 vstar, but said he just doesn't have time for it these days. And hobbies like gardening or woodwork just can't match the appeal of what he really enjoys doing: movies. Not going to see them, but acting in them. He may not have any star roles to his credit, but if you look closely, you'll see him in such films as "She's Out of My League," "Warriors," "On the Inside," and the upcoming "Let It Snow," filmed in Millvale and Point Breeze and scheduled for a November release.

"I'm one of the Santa Clauses," Jimmy said.

The scissors and the combs and the clippers keep drawing him into what he calls his "little shop," where he is the last in his family to carry on the tradition of "…making people look good."

"My dad passed away, my three sisters and two cousins were in the business, but they've all retired. So now it's just me. I don't care if I'm open only one day a week. I'm 69 years old now, but I'll stay with it as long as I can, because I love it."


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