FORT WAYNE – After 64 years of cutting hair on Broadway, Phil Rizzo has spun the heavy leather barber chair and brushed the hair off the back of a client’s neck for the last time.
Rizzo, who will be 90 in August, has retired.
It’s a bit of a shock, he said Wednesday while packing up his things.
At the end of the month, it will all be gone and so will I, he said.
Rizzo’s father, Nick, started the original shop on the southeast corner of Broadway and West Washington Boulevard at 1011 Broadway.
Phil and his brother Sam decided to go to barber school shortly after both had spent several years overseas during World War II.
Rizzo graduated from Central Catholic High School and got married when he was 18. His wife was pregnant when he was drafted into the Army’s 106th Infantry Division.
He spent three years fighting all over Europe, he said. When he finally came home, he met his 3-year-old daughter for the first time.
She didn’t know me from Adam, he said.
His brother was injured in the war and later spent many years working with disabled veterans in Allen County, Rizzo said.
Father and both sons worked together for about 14 years before moving about a block south to 1122 Broadway, where Phil has been for 50 years.
His father died in 1971 at the age of 76, and his brother left the barber shop to pursue other interests.
Nick, armed with his father’s barber pole and antique neon sign Nick’s Barber Shop in the front window, continued to serve his customers, some for decades.
He didn’t advertise and never had a phone in the shop, but he had plenty of customers. Slightly built with an amicable smile and impish twinkle in his eyes, Phil Rizzo was comfortable talking to friends and strangers alike – a good trait for a barber to have, he said.
His shop still had the original barber chairs and cabinetry with shaving mugs and brushes and clippers strategically placed at each station.
Up until the day he retired, Rizzo still used the original manual cash register – an ornate work of art with large keys that rang up only to a maximum of $2.
When I started, I charged 50 cents for a haircut, he said, laughing. It eventually went up to $1 and then $1.50.
At the time of his retirement, the going rate was $12 to $15, although he was known to offer generous discounts.
I had a lot of older guys and World War II veterans for customers, he said.
Rizzo remembers when many of his customers were from the Allen County Public Library and Rogers and Maloley’s grocery stores and when shops like Wolf & Dessauer department store and Murphy’s Dime Store dominated downtown.
There used to be a lot of doctors along Wayne Street and many of them were my customers, Rizzo said, but, they’re all gone now.
We often went to Coney Island and got a soda for a nickel and three coney dogs for $1, he said, and I can still go there and eat, he added, looking amazed.
Rizzo retired now because in 10 years more he would be too old, he said.
And he didn’t retire earlier because working from 8 a.m. to noon Tuesday through Saturday got him out of the house, he said.
Even though he’s closed his shop, Rizzo is not worried about becoming inactive because his family and hobbies keep him busy.
Every Sunday all the kids and grandkids come over. We have a lot of fun, he said.
He and his wife, Helen, had six children: Gloria Myers, Barbara Baus, Nick Rizzo, Elaine Petersen, Phil Rizzo Jr. and Barry Rizzo, who have added 12 grandchildren to the clan.
His wife was so ill before she died in 2002 that Rizzo worked half days so he could help take care of her. He continued the new work schedule after Helen died.
Rizzo and his children play golf together, and family members often join him on his quarterly jaunts to Las Vegas.
I like to play poker, he said. Sometimes I win, and sometimes I lose.
But his daughter said more often than not, Rizzo wins.
He seems to be the luckiest person in the world, Elaine Petersen said, and the sweetest.
Rizzo recently bought three separate $5 scratch-off lottery tickets over a period of 17 days and won $500 on each one.
That was just crazy, he said.
There is one area where he could use a little more luck.
Two of his daughters have managed to get a hole-in-one, but Dad never has, Petersen said.
He plays often and keeps trying. It’s become a goal of his.