Saturday was a milestone for Louis Cicero and Islanders of all ages stopped by the bench in front of the barber shop on Grand Avenue — where he started cutting hair during the Eisenhower administration — to wish a happy 85th birthday to the man lovingly known as “Louie the Clip.”
It was equal parts picnic, birthday party and reunion with friends and life-long customers coming from on and off the Island to honor the man who has coiffed many generations with style, panache and great stories.
By the time Janet D’Amato arrived with a large homemade strawberry cake and presented it to the birthday boy, the party guests had tucked into the spread of sandwiches, salads, Italian cold cuts, and red, white and blue cupcakes arrayed in an American flag formation of buttercream. Louie’s wife Anita organized the buffet lunch in the shop.
Tents festooned with balloons were out front, with a procession of Islanders coming to celebrate the occasion.
“I started going to Louie as soon as he came here,” said Jim McGayhey. Other customers, some whose hair is now a distant memory, recalled younger days when only Louie could be trusted with their locks.
“He‘s cut my hair for years,” said Gordon Gooding. “It’s just not the same unless you’re sitting in that chair. He’s a special guy.”
The shop has always boasted a great location. Built in 1926 as a bakery and gift shop, it was called the Gingerbread House, the first stop for churchgoers coming down from Our Lady of the Isle after services on Sunday mornings.
In 1946 it became a barbershop and in 1959 Louis arrived as assistant to the new owner. Haircuts were $1.75.
Although he’d grown up in East Hampton, he had never stepped foot on the Island before, and had some doubts about the commute. Unimpressed with the size of “that little wooden boat,” he thought, “Geez, are we going to make it across?”
The barber shop walls are a gallery of Shelter Island history, papered with clippings from local sports events and sports figures’ photographs, including Carl Yastrzemski, who Louie played against in high school.
A recent Reporter story on six generations of one family who have come to Louie (“Keeping the Clarks clipped”) shared the space with reports of Island track star Kal Lewis’ feats.
“Your son is going to break the four-minute mile,” Louie told Ken Lewis, who came to offer congratulations. “Kal will come by when he finishes work at the FIT Center,” Mr. Lewis said.
Louie’s sister Paula Halsey and her husband, Doug — a harelegger, class of ‘61 — were on hand for the special day.
Emily Hallman, whose father built the bakery run by her mother, which then became the barber shop, shared the famed bench for a while, along with Andy and Dale Holm.
All agreed, it was a Shelter Island celebration to remember.