Joe the barber closes his Shorewood shop

Barber Joe D’Acquisto sits in his North Shore Barber Shop on Oakland Avenue. The shop will close at the end of May. D’Acquisto says he’s selling one of his chairs to a customer and the other will go to his son Frank.

Barber Joe D’Acquisto sits in his North Shore Barber Shop on Oakland Avenue. The shop will close at the end of May. D’Acquisto says he’s selling one of his chairs to a customer and the other will go to his son Frank.

May 7, 2014

Shorewood — The village will see a place of unique character, and one that encompasses a tremendous amount of Shorewood history, closing at the end of May.

Area men and their sons have been regulars at Joe's North Shore Barber Shop, 4417 N. Oakland Ave., for decades, where haircuts go for $16 and where barber Joe D'Acquisto answers the wall-mounted land-line in a double-thick Sicilian accent.

D'Acquisto is being pushed toward retirement as landlord Nat Davauer aims to open a beer cafe called Craft and Vessel in his place.

Charles High, a regular at Joe's, said customers will miss Joe, "a gentleman of great dignity."

And, "I'm going to miss my customers," D'Acquisto said.

High has organized a send-off for "Joe the barber" on May 27, an easy stop-in opportunity for loyal customers and friends.

From Porticello

D'Acquisto, 77, came to Milwaukee in 1970 in his mid 30s, one of many immigrants from the Sicilian fishing village of Porticello who settled in the area.

After a stint doing factory work at Falk Corp., he cut hair with Anthony Pullara, another Sicilian native who now owns Shear Perfection on Wisconsin Avenue. They worked in the Marine Bank building in downtown Milwaukee before Joe settled into Oakland Avenue, eventually buying the business in 1992 from "John the barber," fellow Sicilian John Fiumefreddo.

"I never did advertisements. It was word of mouth," D'Acquisto said

While his retirement wasn't planned, D'Acquisto does have health challenges: diabetes and a heart problem. High says there was a push to find D'Acquisto a chair somewhere else as his shop closes, but D'Acquisto said no.

"I don't need another job," he said.

He said he'll do some oil painting in retirement at his Whitefish Bay home.

Joe and his wife, Rosa, have grown children Maria and Frank, and grandchildren. Their son Dominic died last year.

A sanctuary

Joe's simple shop, with its worn wood floor and photos of Sicily on the walls, has had a calming effect on customers over the years.

"It's a sanctuary," said Greg Hartlmeier of Milwaukee, who has been coming to Joe's for 13 years.

"I'm in mourning," said 22-year customer John Grogan of Fox Point.

D'Acquisto's methods are old school: scissors instead of clippers, talcum powder and Clubman Bay Rum aftershave, a classic product Joe says he can only find online now.

He meticulously shaves the back of clients' necks with a straight-edge razor.

"It's hard to find that these days," Hartlmeier said.

The haircut style today is "shorter but not really a buzz cut," D'Acquisto says. "Depends on where you live. On the South Side they still do a flattop."

A cultural change

To his customers, as his shop closes, Joe suggests Shear Perfection, and Nick's, a three-chair shop at 1520 E. Capitol Drive. Owner Pete Balistrieri bought that shop from yet another Sicilian, Nick D'Amato. "Joe's always been a real gentleman and a really, really good barber," Balistrieri said.

There's also The Men's Room next door, at 4423 Oakland Ave. D'Acquisto says owner Trish Krumins' place is more sophisticated than his. Also, prices are higher, with haircuts starting at $28.

"We wish Joe the best in retirement" said a Men's Room manager who declined to give his name.

The end of Joe's is symbolic in a village that has changed its commercial character, with upscale storefronts continuing to move in along Oakland Avenue.

D'Acquisto's retirement also highlights the fading first-generation Italian immigrant culture in Milwaukee, which blossomed more than a hundred years ago. D'Acquisto's much-noted love of opera is just one reflection of that culture.

"He taught me a lot of Italian and explained what (Italian tenor Andrea) Bocelli was singing," says Bob Albrightson of Shorewood, former football coach at Whitefish Bay High whose sons Andy, Chris and Scott also use Joe's.

Possibly Figaro, Figaro, Figaro! will be heard no more on Oakland Avenue.

If you go

What: Retirement party for Joe D'Acquisto

Where: Joe's North Shore Barber Shop, 4417 N Oakland Ave.

When: Noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday, May 27.

Extras: Snacks, soft drinks and opera are planned.

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