South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

 
 

By Al Lowe
Contributing Writer 

Joe Rotondo wanted clients to look like movie stars

 

May 25, 2004



Joseph Mario Rotondo is fondly remembered as proprietor of the South Side's Hollywood Barber Shop, where, in 1998, you could still get a haircut for $5.

“Joe, why don't you give yourself a raise?” his longtime friend Marty Dorfner of Schwartz Market would ask him. But Mr. Rotondo insisted he could not raise the rates for the many seniors who frequented his shop.

He opened the shop in 1938 and closed it in 1998, and like the price, it did not change much: mirrors, two barber chairs, magazines, and chairs for the customers to wait. Occasionally television news clips would be filmed there – such as when the steel mills shut down or when a barbershop quartet concert was in town.

He never wanted a pay phone and was satisfied with the pay phone outside, which passers-by would answer for him, said granddaughter Michelle Senko, who delivered the eulogy at his Mass.

Her father named the shop Hollywood Barber Shop in the thirties “because he said his customers wanted to look like movie stars,” daughter Marie Senko, of the Banksville section of Pittsburgh, said.

Mr. Rotondo, 92, of Carrick, died of complications from kidney failure May 13 at Beverly Healthcare-South Hills in Mount Lebanon.

“He was a good, kind man who worked until he couldn't work any more,” said Dorfner. A photo in his shop showed him in his younger days in Italy, where he grew up. He came to this country when he was 18, learned English, went to barber school and became a U.S. citizen. “He always said ‘God bless America.' He loved this country,” said daughter Connie of Whitehall.

“He was sincere, humble, honest,” daughter Marie said. She remembered he attended customers' funerals to pay his respects. She also recalled that in later years he still helped women by carrying their shopping bags home.

Mr. Rotondo's philosophy was “No matter how difficult life may seem, never give up,” she said. “If we were feeling down, he would say ‘Don't give up hope',” daughter Connie said.

His granddaughter remembered his climbing to the top of a hill in his yard to work on his garden. His big toe protruded from one of his shoes as he operated gardening contraptions that he had made himself.

In the 30s Mr. Rotondo wrote words to Italian songs that were published and recorded in Pittsburgh. One was called “Baciani.” In English it meant, “Kiss me.” Another was “Rosita.”

Mr. Rotondo is also survived by grandsons Brian and Paul.

A Mass was celebrated May 17 at Saint Basil Church in Carrick.

He had always sat in the same pew, the sixth one on the right hand side of the church at the 8 a.m. Mass.

 

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