A walk down memory lane

A Walk Down Memory Lane With Vinnie Mazzeo

Vinnie’s has been the place for a shave and a haircut since 1975

If you mention music or bands in Sag Harbor, everyone knows the Mazzeo name,” said Vinnie Mazzeo proudly.

“My grandfather started the first coronet band in 1914 in Sag Harbor. They would play in all the parades and every Sunday they would give a free concert in Mashashimuet Park. People would come with their picnic baskets and my grandfather’s band would put on a concert. Everyone knew my grandfather as Antonio ‘Pop’ Mazzeo,” he said.

“Pop came to the United States in the early 1900s from Sicily. He didn’t have any relatives or friends here, but he was brave and came to make a better life for himself. He never went to college but he was a natural musician. In the late 1800s, he was in the Italian Army band. He could play any brass or wind instrument like the trombone, clarinet, or tuba.” Pop later taught music in “almost every” East End high school, including Sag Harbor, Shelter Island and Greenport. He also organized the Sag Harbor Community Band in 1957. “To this day, the band still plays every Tuesday in front of the American Legion in Sag Harbor,” said Mazzeo.

Vinnie Mazzeo’s father was born in Sag Harbor in 1912, and worked at the Bulova Watch Company until it closed in the 1970s. “He was a musician too. He also worked in Greenport for a while and started shipyard bands over there,” Mazzeo noted.

Mazzeo said he and his parents, along with his four siblings, shared a house with his grandparents. “All my brothers and sisters had no choice, we had to play an instrument,” Mazzeo said. Born and raised in Sag Harbor, Mazzeo attended school in the district. During his junior year, when it came time to decide his career path, Mazzeo admitted that “I didn’t think I had the head for college.”

Barber Shop Beginnings

One day, when Mazzeo was in the local barber shop owned and operated by Marty Trunzo, he told his father that he might want to do what Trunzo did. “Marty was like an uncle to me. He was my inspiration. I told my dad that Marty was in that barber shop and he wore a clean white jacket and in the summer time he had the air conditioner on and in the winter, he has the heat on, and he’s talking to everyone and having a good time.”

During his senior year, he continued, “I would leave school for a couple of hours each day and I would sit in a chair in the barber shop and I would observe Marty cutting hair. I got credit for it. It was like an internship.”

With Trunzo as his inspiration, Mazzeo enrolled in the Intercounty Barber School in Babylon, completing a six-month course and obtaining his New York State license. He was 19. And there was Vietnam.

“Rather than get drafted, I enlisted with the Navy for four years, from 1969 to 1973,” Mazzeo explained. “I was on a destroyer, the USS Johnston, and became the ship’s barber. I taught a young Cuban American guy on board how to cut hair and handed him a pair of scissors. There were some rough cuts at first but then he learned. I was fortunate to be stationed on the East Coast, in Charleston, SC. “

Being in the sixth Atlantic fleet, Mazzeo spent most of his time in the Mediterranean, and got to meet some family from the old country. “I did two complete deployments across the ocean four times,” he said. “That’s when I met some of my family on my mother’s side. I got to know Naples, Italy, like I know Sag Harbor. We’d pull in and I’d say, ‘Okay, see you guys’ and they would ask me where I was going and I would say, ‘I’m going to visit my cousins.’”

Upon his return home from the service, Mazzeo met his wife, Robin. He knew he was “hooked” right away, he said. He had been working in a few different barber shops before taking over a vacant shop in Amagansett. “It had been a barber shop that had gone out of business two years prior,” explained Mazzeo.

Located where Astro Pizza currently sits on Main Street, Mazzeo took a chance to start his own barber shop. “It was 1975. The hippie era was winding down so I thought the timing would be right. During the hippie era, the guys had long hair. They’d run past a barber shop,” he said with a laugh. “That’s when stylists started. People wanted their hair styled. Barbers don’t style hair, we cut it off!”

The Next Generation

In 1979, the Mazzeos had their first child, Nicholas. Their second child, Lauryn, was born two years later. “When Nick was around seven years old, he was downstairs playing with Lauryn and their cousin Cindy, when Nick decided that they were going to play barber. I have a little barber shop set-up in the basement with a chair where I cut the kids’ hair, my father-in-law’s hair, and other family members,” Mazzeo remembered.

“So, Nick gets a piece of wood, puts it on the barber chair, pulls up a bar stool behind, and tells Lauryn to get up on the chair and then he starts cutting her hair. She was five years old and had these beautiful curls and he cut them all off. Lauryn went upstairs to show my wife, and she goes ‘Mommy, mommy, look at my hair. Nick gave me a haircut!’ And my wife screamed, ‘Oh my God!’ But Lauryn thought Nick’s cut was terrific.”

“That was Nick’s first encounter with barbering,” Mazzeo said with a chuckle. “I figured Nick was definitely going to be a barber since he started cutting hair at seven years old.”

Mazzeo’s prediction came true and Nick followed in his footsteps, becoming a Master Barber through the American Barber Institute in New York City. He has been cutting hair alongside his father for 19 years.

Although the shop has moved within Amagansett to three different locations, its last move to Amagansett Square displayed the new sign, Vinnie and Nick’s Barber Shop, evidence of their equal partnership in the business.

Lauryn Mazzeo-Weeks, his daughter, has admitted that her father was an inspiration to her. She attended beauty school in Patchogue and received her New York State license. Weeks has a salon on Main Street in Bridgehampton, Capelli Hair and Skin.

“She works hard and she’s good at what she does,” said Mazzeo. With three aunts, who were also hair dressers, he joked, “We have a lot of family in the hair business. It’s in our DNA. I’ve always said that if I would have known back in the day when my kids were young that they were going to be in the hair business, I would have bought a nice place for all of us and called it Vinnie’s Hair We Are. It would have had a hair salon on the left side for Lauryn and a barber shop on the right for Nick.”

Mazzeo has seen and cut the hair of many generations of families. He’s watched children grow-up, mature, and marry. Then, as fathers, they have brought their children for haircuts. “I’ve been in Amagansett for 43 years. This is like the last hold-out. I’ve had guys have come in and say, ‘I haven’t been to a place like this since I was a kid.’ Nobody has this. We’ve got the barber chairs, the wooden sitting board that’s over 100 years old, and the cash register that is 104 years old. This is Norman Rockwell.”

valerie@indyeastend.com