NANTICOKE — Zel Vici says he will retire at the end of the year.
“If I live that long,” he said.
Zelino “Zel” Vici is 99 years old — he will turn 100 on May 28 — and he has been cutting hair in his hometown since 1935.
His modest shop at the corner of South Prospect and Church streets has two chairs. He said he only uses one; the other was for apprentices.
“But I haven’t had an apprentice since before World War II,” he said.
Jerry Bavitz, 85, of Sheatown, has been coming to Vici for 40 years.
“Always go to the best,” Bavitz said. “And Zel is the best.”
Vici’s barber shop is located on the street level of his home. The shop has the usual items — tonics, clippers, scissors, combs and even a vacuum cleaner to clean up the freshly fallen hair of his customers.
A magazine rack is filled with current issues. A coat rack has plenty of hangers available for customers. And the music of Frank Sinatra fills the room as Vici goes about the only job he has ever had.
“I hope he lasts forever,” Bavitz said. “He’s a good man. He’s the best.”
Vici’s wife, Minnie, died Feb. 21. She was 96. Vici relies on his work and his customers to provide distraction from his grieving.
“I’m not much of a talker, though,” he said. “I like to listen. I have some customers who have been coming here for 70 years and I still can’t remember their names.”
No shaves, housecalls
A haircut goes for $12, but you won’t get a shave and Vici doesn’t do house calls. But he still drives, and his day begins at 4 a.m. After a little breakfast, Vici comes downstairs and waits for his loyal customers to file in — no appointments are necessary.
Vici has a son, 72, and a daughter, 66. He has two grandsons who he likes to brag about.
He started as a lather boy for Dick Ginger around 1930 at a barber shop at West Green and Maple streets.
“That’s where I learned how to cut hair,” he said.
Vici said his secret to his longevity is simple — good doctors.
“I had a heart attack years ago and they gave me a triple by-pass,” he said. “They told me if I watched my diet and exercised, I’d be good for 10 years. That was 21 years ago.”
Vici said his customers come in, sit in the chair and talk.
“I get a lot of information from them,” he said. “And some good ideas, too.”
Vici is open Tuesday through Saturday from about 8 a.m. to noon. He said his eyesight and memory are good, but his hearing is “a little off.” He said haircuts and styles have changed over the years.
“Today, the younger guys want a quarter-inch on the sides and a half-inch on top,” he said.
The son of Italian immigrants, Vici said he’s a diabetic. He’s eliminated all animal fat from his diet, but he eats “a little bit of everything.” He said he uses his microwave oven to cook most of his meals.
“But it’s got to be a balanced meal,” he said.
Vici has never smoked and he exercises every day. He watches sports and news on television and he has a computer that he uses for e-mailing and looking up topics of interest, like history.
“No fiction though,” he said. “I like to read facts.”
Vici averages 6 to 10 haircuts a day. His customers are mostly senior citizens because he’s only open until noon.
Vici said the world has changed in his 10 decades of life, and so have the people.
“People are not as honest as they used to be,” he said. “And they’re not as religious as they used to be.”
Beer gardens, barbers
When Vici opened his shop in 1935, there were 32 barber shops in Nanticoke. Now there are three. He said there were 92 beer gardens as well in the town of 30,000 people.
“Now we have about 10,000 living here,” he said.
When he closes the shop at noon, Vici has some lunch and he reads a lot. Sometimes he takes a nap and “fools around” on the computer before going to bed around 9 p.m.
Bolish Bralczyk, 72, of Glen Lyon, has been getting his hair cut at Vici’s shop for more than 20 years.
“I’m 72 and I’ve got more gray hair than Zel,” Bralczyk said. “He does a good job. If he didn’t I wouldn’t be coming here.”
As Bralczyk talked about Newport High School’s storied athletic teams, Vici went about his business with scissors and comb in hand. He never missed a beat as Bralczyk reminisced about the Nutcrackers and the sports rivalries of the 1950s and 1960s.
“Zel is as good as anybody I’ve ever gone to, if not better,” he said.
Before Bralczyk was done, Shawn Carey, 30, of Nanticoke, walked in to wait his turn. He’s been coming to Vici’s shop for 10 years.
“He does an excellent job,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”
When he does retire, Vici plans to spend a lot of time in the library and he will walk through the mall to get his exercise.
“And I’ll probably play around on the computer a lot more,” he said.