Giorgio Zocco, a staple at his Smith Street barbershop for decades, died on Sunday, ending 40 years of old-school dedication to his craft and his neighborhood. He was 70.
Zocco, whom everyone called “Sal the Barber,” died in the emergency room of Beth Israel Hospital in Manhattan after a stent that had been put in his stomach several years ago failed to contain a growing aneurysm.
The death ends nearly half a century of hair styling and story telling on Smith Street between Union and Sackett streets, where Zocco had been in business since the 1970s.
Giorgio Zocco left his native Pozzallo, Sicily, when he was 13 — but rather than heading for the fruitful offerings of America, he set sail for Venezuela, where he learned to cut hair.
“His family sent him all alone to make money for himself,” said Zocco’s son, Michael Zocco. “That’s when he learned to be a barber — and he was one ever since.”
Zocco first worked in a different Smith Street shop — one that he eventually purchased before moving the entire operation in 1979 to 299 Smith St., where he also lived.
His clients were many — and loyal.
“When he was cutting my hair he got this far away look,” Said Aaron Hillis, a customer of Sal’s for six years. “It was a half-smile. You knew he was entranced by what he was doing.”
Hillis said that Zocco’s personality was as unforgettable as his haircuts.
“He was friendly and gregarious,” said Hillis. “I always admired him for his bluntness and the way he told stories.”
The shop’s window displays pictures of Sal doing what he loved — sitting his barbershop and, in another, dancing with his late wife, Maria.
Zocco is survived by Michael and two other children: Carmela Alicia and Peter.