For the first time in almost 60 years, Leroy Carcione stayed home from his barbershop during the coronavirus shutdown.
After a few weeks, he thought about going back but decided too much had changed and maybe at age 79 it was time to finally retire and start on wife Barbara's honey-do list.
“It was hard to walk away from the people, though,” he said. “I had cut their hair for all those years so that I knew them by their first name and not their last name.”
After graduating from Central Catholic in 1960 then barber school, he set up shop in May 1961 at 3228 N. Clinton St. back when that was outside the city limits and before Glenbrook Square was even a dream. Fifty years later, the landlord wanted the land for something else, so Carcione moved to 1224 E. State Blvd. for the last nine years until the virus postponed his 60-year anniversary.
The worst part is that Carcione never got to say goodbye, and mailing announcements is a little tough when he knows mostly first names and few of the customers use social media – which frankly is why they enjoyed the low-tech approach in Lee's Barbershop.
As his son, Mike, said, “The reason people go there is they want to sit and hang out and give each other a hard time without everyone being so sensitive.”
As much as Carcione loved “The Andy Griffith Show” – enough that buddy Bob Price made him a “Floyd's Barbershop” sign – let's just say the repartee could be a little freewheeling. In fact, Mike said what he learned in the barbershop over the years meant he could survive the verbal jousting when he joined the Fort Wayne Fire Department.
“You could go in there and say whatever, do whatever, and the guys all loved it,” Mike said. “I listened to the BS and I learned to hold my own with the best of them in the engine house.”
The wives knew about the blarney and waited in the car while their husbands went in for haircuts. They probably were in there a little longer than expected. There were no appointments – or a phone in the shop to schedule them – so everyone sat for a spell and joined in the “conversation” led by Carcione.
Everyone admits Lee is a bit of a character with the gift of – well, gab only partly describes it.
“He enjoys his customers and all the BS that flies around the shop,” his daughter Janice Richardson said. “I always told my kids if they had friends over not to believe anything he says because he's so full of it.”
Hearing that, Lee just laughs and nods. He used to tell priests he heard more confessions than they did.
“More true ones at least,” he said. “They would clean them up a little when they went to confession.”
For the last decade, Bob Price walked in every morning to read the paper, drop off Carcione's coffee and brought his Boston terrier, Buster, in to get five Animal Crackers from the barber.
“He's probably one of the most honest and down-to-earth guys you'll ever meet,” Price said.
Carcione, who turned 80 on Aug. 27, has lived at Pretty Lake the last 20 years and still cuts hair one day a week in his garage, using a flip phone to set up appointments. Price still goes up every three weeks or so to get a touch-up and take Buster for a visit.
Besides priests, firemen and police officers, some of Carcione's other favorite customers are his grandsons and great-grandsons. He gave each their first haircut.
“He was cutting my son Gabe's hair and said, 'Oops, there goes your ear,' and my son looked over the chair and said, 'Where?'” Richardson recalled. “He told my nephew there was a bucket of ears in the back and his could be added if he didn't sit still.”
As they grew up, the kids might suggest a particular style, but when sitting in grandpa's chair, they always got whatever he decided. When grandson John started dating his future wife, she asked how he wanted his hair cut, he said, “I don't know.”
As Price said, “He'd say, 'You just sit there and let me cut your hair. I've been doing this longer than you've been alive.'”
Grandpa also never charged, and there were always suckers in the drawer.
“I always tell them it's part of their inheritance because I kept track of how many free haircuts they got,” Carcione said.
Mike said he's only gotten two haircuts from someone else, both when attending Ball State, and he hated them. It gave him an excuse to come home to catch up with Dad and everyone else in the shop.
“I always enjoyed talking to everyone and the people you met,” Lee Carcione said. “You know, you'd run into people on the street and maybe say something to them, and they wouldn't really recognize you. You'd know so much about them because of all the conversations you'd had, and they would wonder how you knew all that. Then they'd realize who I was.”
They'd know the voice but rarely the face because Carcione was always standing behind them while cutting hair.
“I miss all of them anyways,” he said. “You just know so many of them and so much about them. I enjoyed all of them.”