by Sue Ann Rybak
The sign on Frank Salemno’s barbershop said:
“Thank you friends for your loyal patronage over the past 75 years. You have been much more than customers, you have been very good buddies, and we have shared many great times and memories together! I am retired. Thank you! Frank.”
Salemno, who was nicknamed “Frankie Smacks” for giving his favorite customers little slaps on the backs of their heads and then ordering them to get out of the barber chair when their haircut was done, was more than just a shop owner – he was a living legend to many longtime Chestnut Hill residents.
Rose DiPinto, Salemno’s sister said her father closed his shop in January.*
“He is in a rehabilitation center in New Jersey,” DiPinto said.
DiPinto said people went to her father’s shop because they thought of him as their friend.
“He was more than just a barber to his customers,” DiPinto said. “People considered him a friend, and he loved all his customers.”
At the age of 18, Salemno bought the business from Dominic Rosetti for $50 – $15 of which he had to borrow from friends. Salemno said one friend even chipped in 11 cents. He said when he first started the shop he charged 40 cents a haircut.
Salemno used to say “clippers were for sissies.” Salemno’s tools were simple – shears, a comb, a straight razor and hot lather.
Tom Alex, of Chestnut Hill, said Salemno was a genuinely happy guy. Alex said the first time Salemno gave him a shave with a straight razor he thought uh-ho.
“Sometimes, his hands were a little unsteady – but everything turned out fine,” Alex said.
Jim Shea, 86, of Chestnut Hill, said Salemno’s barbershop was a social hub. Shea said it was a place where a little good-natured ribbing was accepted. Shea, a World War II veteran, noted that it was hard to find old-time barbershops, where a man can enjoy camaraderie and talk sports. Shea added that nowadays men and women get their hair styled at beauty salons.
“He was a good Marine and one of the few skilled barbers,” Shea said.“He will be missed by everybody.”
Salemno fought at Saipan and Iwo Jima with the 4th Marine Division, 3rd Battalion, during World War II. He went in with the first wave at Iwo Jima and, after the beachhead was established, served as a runner. Salemno was wounded twice with shrapnel in his chest and a bullet in his leg. He received a Purple Heart, four Combat Stars, a Gold Star and two Presidential citations for his service.
In 1946, Salemno reopened his shop. An active citizen in the community, Salemno was a former president of the Chestnut Hill/Mt. Airy Business Development group, which preceded the present Chestnut Hill Business Association. DiPinto said Salemno was a family man who was extremely proud of his grandchildren. In the 1970s, he helped organize the Christmas Parade, the 4th of July Celebration and many other civic events.
Salemno loved to kid with his customers.
If you asked him what his specialty was, he would say “boating.” Salemno loved to go out on his 44-foot Grand Banks trawler and go fishing.
Mike Dante, a longtime Chestnut Hill resident who recalled going to Salemno’s barbershop as a teenager, said, “He will be missed.”
Editor’s note: An original version of this story erroneously called DiPinto Salemno’s sister.