Vito’s Barber Shop closes in Red Bridge Shopping Center
By Kathy Feist
Cover photo by Bill Rankin
Vito DiGirolamo was only 16 years old when he entered barber college in 1960. He opened his first shop by the time he was 17. Now, almost 60 years later, DiGirolamo has retired from his barber salon at the Red Bridge Shopping Center.
“Sixty years was a good run,” he says. “It’s been a hell of a party!”
DiGirolamo got his start shining shoes in his uncle’s barber shop in Kansas City’s Northeast neighborhood. “It always fascinated me, watching people come in looking shaggy and a few minutes later going out looking brand new,” he recalls. “It’s a special art form when you can change someone’s looks in a matter of minutes.”
After barber college, DiGirolamo opened his first barber shop in his old neighborhood at 9th and Gladstone. After a couple of years he moved on to a “hot spot,” across from the city’s first Metropolitan Junior College at 39th and McGee. In the 70s he moved south to Terrace Lakes Shopping Center, a few miles east of his current location on Red Bridge Rd.
“A lot of loyal customers stuck with me the whole time. They moved south as I moved south,” he says. His Terrace Lake shop was next to Cosentino’s Thriftway grocery store. (The shopping strip is now the International House of Prayer headquarters.)
When a space opened at Red Bridge Shopping Center 35 years ago, DiGirolamo made his final move.
Over the years he filled the space with pictures of athletes, Las Vegas casinos, cars and the Rat Pack. A pay phone attached to the wall served as the main line to the business. Appointments were not necessary. Local gossip was free. And a good hair cut only took five to six minutes.
“You didn’t even have to bother telling him how to cut your hair,” says longtime customer Paul Wooten. “He had a great memory for what you liked.”
Wooten has been a customer for 47 years. His son and grandson have both had their hair cut at Vito’s.
DiGirolamo says he has several customers who are four-generation clients, including the Tarwater family (as in Jackson County legislator Dan) and the Switzer family, best known for their painting company.
“The main thing I want to say is I really appreciate the loyalty of my customers all these years,” he says.
DiGirolamo closed his shop on March 14 due to the coronovirus pandemic. When barber shops and beauty salons were allowed to reopen two months later, he chose to retire. “At my age, it’s pretty dangerous to go back to work. I’m very susceptible to catching it,” he says.” So I thought for everybody’s safety, I would just retire.”
DiGirolamo says his future plans include traveling with his wife.
Editor’s note: DiGirolamo says he’s not one for the spotlight, and so declined a photo. Still, like his customers, we are grateful for his time and stories.
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