Barbershop bond: 50 years of haircuts forges unique connection
Propped up on a chair at Long Hill Hair Stylists, Vincent Zujewski looks at home.
As he should, he’s been a customer here since he was 16 years old.
The man behind him, owner and hairstylist Nick Clericuzio, laughs when asked about the first time he cut the then teenager’s hair.
“He was very young,” the barber recalls as he prepares to leave his faithful customer’s sideburns longer than usual — upon request.
“He always liked to look good for the girls,” Clericuzio joked. “I told him, ‘you’re going to look good unless you look in the mirror.’”
Zujewski, who graduated Trumbull High School in 1968 before enlisting in the Navy four years later, remembers that day in 1966, too.
The thrill of getting his license. Taking his dad’s truck out on Main Street. And, finally, finding someone to give him a different haircut than the one he had been receiving for the first 16 years of his life.
“Truth is, I never found a place that matched the quality of haircut that Nick would give,” said Zujewski, who treks down to Trumbull from Andover at least once a year to see his old friend and barber.
“Boy did I luck out,” he added. “I came in with a crew cut and just sat down in the chair — I didn’t order anything. I told him to pick a style and make it look nice.”
The 50th year anniversary of Clericuzio cutting Zujewski’s hair marked a special occasion for the former Trumbull resident — he will where this trim to his daughter’s wedding at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California later this month.
It’s far from the only haircut that Zujewski has carried with him far from the borders of Connecticut.
“Even when I was in the Navy, I would find myself visiting my parents [who lived] in Easton whenever I needed a haircut,” he said. “There really is no comparison.”
Family of barbers
The business, located at 6202 Main Street, features all three Clericuzio brothers — Phil, Tony, and Nick.
In September 2010, Phil joined the ranks on a part-time basis after closing up his business — Merritt Barber Shop in Bridgeport.
Nick, who featured in USA Today in June 2002 as one of “10 great places to get a shave and a haircut” in the United States, first picked up the razor when he was nine years old living in Italy. He hasn’t looked back since.
“My father was a barber and he ran a five-chair shop so it’s been a family business for as long as I can remember,” he said.
“The first time I picked up a pair of blades it was for this customer who hadn’t shaved in two weeks and I couldn’t finish,” he recalled. “I had to call my brother who was 12 years old at the time and he had to finish the job ...
“Since then I’ve finished every shave I’ve ever started.”
Coming to America at the age of 20, Clericuzio said that the family business wasn’t always what he aspired for.
“I didn’t like it at all,” he said. “But my oldest brother (Phil) told me, ‘you’re going to be in the shop whether you like it or not.’
“That was in Italy,” he explained. “Soon after I came over, I started this shop … and here we are now, all working together in the same place.”
Phil’s arrival in Trumbull marked the first time in 52 years since the brothers were in the same barber shop — before then they had previously only worked together at their dad’s business outside of Naples.
Zujewski never gets tired of hearing stories from the old country.
“They’re always exciting,” he said. “There’s always something interesting from when Nick travels to Italy — he comes back with a story every time.”
While the barber and customer talk about a variety of subjects during their 15 minutes together, there is one topic that’s off limits.
“We stay away from politics,” Clericuzio said.
One story stands out for Zujewski — a story that’s less adventure and more a testament to character.
That’s when his hairstylist of 50 years went to Italy in the fall of 2009 with $9,000 in cash to hand deliver money that was raised in Trumbull for an orphanage that was affected during an earthquake that ravaged the city of L’Aguila in April 2009.
Over that five-month span between the earthquake and his journey home, Clericuzio worked Wednesday afternoons — the day he typically reserves off — and donated all sale proceeds to both the Archbishop of L'Aquila and the director of the L'Aquila Don Bosco Salesian Oratory Boys & Girls Club.
The donation, which came with additional customer contributions, was used to rebuild churches and the Don Bosco Boys & Girls Club building, which were destroyed by the earthquake.
“I wanted to give it to them directly,” he said of the journey. “The government was moving very slowly to respond to the devastation — more than 300 people died and there were 150 orphans. They really needed the support.”
And he got it from the community he’s been living in since the 1960s — the same one Zujewski moved to in 1955 when he was a five years old.
“It’s the best best town to live in,” Clericuzio said.
“There’s excellent people here with the exception of the guy who left,” he joked, nodding to the man who first sat in his chair when he was a Trumbull teenager.
The time machine
Nostalgia, or affection for the past, is usually tethered to a period or place where someone once experienced happiness.
For Zujewski, walking through the doors at Long Hill Hair Stylists transports him back to a time when he was young.
However, the happiness realized all those years ago remains five decades later.
“I’ve never walked in the door and he’s not there,” the former Trumbull resident said of Clericuzio. “I just show up — not on Wednesdays, of course — and I know he’ll be here.”
The barber said he felt that the customer would be coming back in for another cut when they first met in 1966.
“I think he looked at himself in my mirror and said in his head, ‘mine as well stay here,’” Clericuzio said.
“I really am stuck here,” Zujewski admits, looking over his shoulder to see the face of the man who’s been talking to him from teenage adolescence through adulthood.
“Whenever I come in, I feel like I’m in the past,” he added. “It’s like I’m 16 again and I’ve just gone through time.”
Nick’s hours are 6:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. He works 6:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturdays. For a haircut, call 203-261-2341.