Cherishing the memories: Bridgeport barber retires after five decades

Photo of Brian Gioiele

BRIDGEPORT — Gaetano Camagna put away his clippers and razor for the last time last month, bringing an end to what has been a staple of the Bridgeport barbershop scene for more than 50 years.

Gaetano “Guy” Camagna in front of his Hollywood Barber Shop on East Main Street in Bridgeport, which he ran for more than 50 years before retiring last month.

Gaetano “Guy” Camagna in front of his Hollywood Barber Shop on East Main Street in Bridgeport, which he ran for more than 50 years before retiring last month.

Contributed photo /
Gaetano “Guy” Camagna at his Hollywood Barber Shop on East Main Street in Bridgeport, which he ran for more than 50 years before retiring last month.

Gaetano “Guy” Camagna at his Hollywood Barber Shop on East Main Street in Bridgeport, which he ran for more than 50 years before retiring last month.

Contributed photo /
Gaetano “Guy” Camagna at his Hollywood Barber Shop on East Main Street in Bridgeport, which he ran for more than 50 years before retiring last month. (Contributed photo0

Camagna, known affectionately as Guy, shut the doors on the Hollywood Barber Shop, a place where he mastered his barbering craft, raised his five daughters and made countless memories with generations of families that walked into the doors of his East Main Street location.

“I am so very blessed,” Camagna said in his Italian accent, still evident despite living in Connecticut since 1963.

“It was a beautiful time … I’ve lost a part of my life, a part of my family,” Camagna added. “But I will always cherish the memories and the friends I have made over the years.”

Camagna, now a Monroe resident, lived in Bridgeport for years with his late wife Celestina, raising his five daughters, Rose, Linda, Silvia, Vera and Lisa, who spent their younger years helping clean and making coffee for guests at the barber shop.

While he is turning 88 this week, it is arthritis that forced him to hang up the clippers and razor — a move that has left many of his regulars lost when looking for a trim.

“Customers keep calling. They are asking how I’m feeling. Some still don’t know I have closed,” he said. “They are asking for appointments, and I’m saying I’ve closed for good. I guess that shows how much I meant to people. I know they meant a lot to me.”

Camagna was first introduced to the barber business as a youngster in Italy. His godfather was a barber in their hometown of Vittoria, Sicily.

“He had a great business. He was the number one barber in town,” Camagna said. “But when I was growing up, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a barber. I tried being a shoemaker, I was no good. I tried being a tailor, I was no good. My father said ‘You are meant to be a barber.’ I don’t want to be a barber, but here I am.”

At the age of 14, Camagna became a barber in Vittoria, Sicily in Italy under the close eye of his godfather.

He was drafted into the Italian Navy in 1956, where he served for two years on the transport ship Stromboli, operating the ship barber shop. Camagna said he hoped to focus on electronics, but once his superiors learned of his barbering skills, he spent the next three years cutting hair on a ship with 515 sailors.

In 1963, he married his wife, Celestina, and they immigrated to the United States to start a family and with the ambition of living the American dream.

He went to Bullard Haven’s Regional Vocational Technical School in Bridgeport to study English and to get his barber’s license. Camagna recalled how instructors, who realized he already had years of professional barber experience, asked him to help train the newcomers.

“I was a student and a teacher,” he said laughing.

He was first employed at Hollywood Barber Shop on East Main Street and Arctic Street in Bridgeport working alongside his boss, Joseph DiFillipo, before purchasing the business from him. In 1977 Camagna moved his barber shop up the street at the 2052 East Main St. location, “making my American dream a reality,” he said.

In 1965, Camagna helped start the Barber’s Union Local 197 and within two years he was the trustee. Three years later he was voted vice president, and within nine years became union president, an office he held for 16 years.

In 1996, he became president of the Connecticut State Journeymen for Barbers, Hairdressers and Cosmetologists.

“Hollywood Barber Shop will forever be known as more than a barber shop,” said his daughter Silvia Rodriguez, known in Shelton for running the city’s Youth Service Bureau. “It was a place where generations of families would come for a haircut and a shave.”

Children would get their first haircut and Camagna would present them with a certificate. If you reached 100 years of age, he would give that person a free haircut for life. Camagna said that only happened once, but many people urged him to remain open until their 100th.

“It was a place where people could stop in, have a cup of coffee and just sit and chat,” Silvia said. “Hollywood Barber Shop is where his own children grew up. It truly is more than a business. For many, it felt like your home away from home.”

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com