By: Dale King Contributing Writer
Luigi Silvestri was barely a teen when he began the trade that would become his life’s work.
At age 14, after learning how to cut hair from a brilliant stylist he remembers as “a maestro,” young Luigi launched his career in Abruzzo, Italy.
He would continue to coif overly grown pates for 65 years, moving from Italy to Lorain, Ohio, and finally, to Boca Raton, where he and his younger brother, Rusty, 72, have clipped, shaved and shorn at their barber shop and hair salon at 4251 N. Federal Highway for 33 years.
Luigi Silvestri turns 79 this month.
On March 30, Luigi trimmed the hair of his final customer. The following day, the small shop was filled with partying friends, colleagues, customers and well-wishers as Luigi officially hung up his barbering tools.
With hair-cutting in the past, Luigi and his wife, Jean, are headed to Gainesville to live with their son and family. Paul Silvestri is head athletic trainer and associate director of sports health at the University of Florida. The Silvestris have another son in Tampa.
During his three-plus decades in Boca, Luigi attracted a loyal clientele that included elected officials, businessmen of all types, one famed football coach and “quite a few other people.”
On hand at the festive finale was former Boca Mayor and County Commissioner Steven Abrams, who sat in the barber chair for one last photo op. So did incumbent Mayor Scott Singer.
Also on the loyal customer list are City Council member Andy Thomson, former State Representative Bill Hager, former City Council Member Al Travasos and Former Florida Atlantic University Head Football Coach Schnellenberger.
“I got my hair cut here every three weeks for 33 years,” said Abrams, now the executive director of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, which operates Tri-Rail. “Luigi is known by most in town simply by his first name, as only true celebrities are,” Abrams added.
Hager, who left the legislature via term limits and is back in private employment, said he “was always treated in a collegial way” when he visited the barber shop.
Singer and Thomson joined in the joyful mood during the Luigi-fest, seconding the idea offered by many that Luigi accompanied his hair-cutting abilities with lots of advice.
“He’s a marriage counselor, a psychologist, you name it,” said one gentleman in the crowd.
Luigi admitted: “I’ve given a lot of advice.”
There is an incident in the retiring barber’s past that nearly put him in the history books, but it’s not one he talks openly about. On a Saturday in September of 2001, two men came in for a haircut. They were quiet, offering only that they were students. Luigi took care of one; a barber who no longer works at the shop cut the hair for the other.
A few days later, the world was stunned by what those men did. The customers were Mohamed Atta, 33, and Marwan al-Shehhi, 23, two of the 19 terrorists who crashed four airliners on 9/11.
“If only I had known,” Luigi said with profound regret.
The crowd at his going-away party didn’t let sadness reign. In fact, Singer presented the retiring hair cutter with a proclamation which read, in part: “Whereas, the foregoing elected officials were elected to office not because of their good looks, but because they had good-looking haircuts; Luigi has dispensed common sense advice to these aforementioned civic leaders over all these years, as only a local barber can do, and some may say thereby influenced the direction of the city to our residents’ benefit.”
Luigi may be leaving, but the barber shop goes on. Mark Zavulumov has purchased the business and Rusty Silvestri, Luigi’s 72-year-old brother, will stay on, as will Frank Falsetta, another hair-cutter who has been working with Luigi and Rusty for 12 years.
Zavulumov said he will “run the shop the same way as Luigi.”