Joseph Barca Sr. spent his 99th birthday with scissors and comb in hand at Barca’s Barbershop Thursday, chatting with silver-crowned customers he’s known since they were little boys.
“I work every day, no trouble at all,” Barca told the Courier-Post of Cherry Hill in the shop he took over in 1955. Slightly irritated by the fuss — “This is a work day!” he complained privately to a reporter — he paused mid-trim to greet the well-wishers who crowded in and out of the shop and spilled out onto the sidewalk.
“I don’t even think I’m 99,” Barca insisted. “I’m still 29.”
The Glassboro resident hasn’t taken a vacation in 15 years. Whenever his son, Joseph Barca Jr., tried closing the shop, the elder Barca packed his lunch and drove nine miles to work like always and opened anyway.
On Sundays, he puts on a tie and goes to church. On Wednesdays, the shop is closed “in case you want to go to the doctor’s, you have one day free that way.”
“All we know is work,” said Barca Jr., 67. “He says, ‘I went on vacation enough when I was young.’”
Born in Glassboro, Barca moved to his family’s native Sicily when he was 3 years old. His father told him he should learn a trade, instead of working in the family’s fields. He began working at a barber shop, sweeping floors and lathering customers’ chins for the barber’s straight razor. By age 10, he was allowed to cut hair while standing on a little bench to reach customers’ heads.
At 14, he moved back to Glassboro to live with his grandparents, and at 23 was drafted to serve during World War II before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. After the war, he returned to Glassboro to work as a barber with his brother, before buying the shop downtown.
He’s been there ever since, talking stocks and sports with the men who stop in, sometimes only for the conversation. His grip is steady and firm, despite an episode with a torn rotator cuff a while back.
He gave Barry Davis his first haircut at age 3. The Elmer resident and regular customer is now 70.
Once a month, Bill Hunt, 92, drives down from Pitman to get a cut because “I didn’t want to change barbers.”
Bucky Volkmar, 80, has been a customer since Barca opened. “That’s why I’m getting bald,” he joked. “He’s cut my hair so many times.”
Mayor Joe Stemberger read a proclamation Thursday morning, thanking Barca for his longtime service.
“It is the meeting place, just a real nice part of the community,” Stemberger said later. “Both Joes are wonderful people.”