Sixty-one Years of Haircuts in West Grove and Still Going Strong
By Steven Hoffman
Sometime in the late 1940s, a young, Italian coal mine worker made his way to Canada and, eventually, to the southern Chester County area. He had high hopes and big dreams.
Domenico Ruffini spent several years working at the General Motors plant in nearby Delaware and then obtained a barber’s license. He established a barbershop in West Grove in 1959.
In August, Domenico passed away at the age of 92 after a long and successful life.
But the shop, now owned and operated by his son, John Ruffini, 61, has endured and remains a centerpiece of the small shops and municipal buildings on Rose Hill Avenue.
The younger Ruffini described Domenico as an energetic and patriotic man. “He would arrive early at the barber shop at 5 a.m. so he could serve the early-risers waiting at the door for their haircuts,” he said.
John added that he worked side-by-side with his father for 40 years, and many people who observed their jolly banter and enjoyment of each other’s company didn’t even realize they were father and son.
“He was my best friend,” John Ruffini said.
Through the years, Domenico threw his energies not only into his barbering profession, but also into West Grove, the town he loved.
He was elected to the borough council in 1980 and served for 20 years. He was also awarded the Avon Grove Lions Club Citizen of the Year Award in 2003.
But what is probably his most widespread and significant accomplishments were his founding of the Avon Grove Veterans Memorial along Evergreen Street in 1993, and then the staging of the annual Avon Grove Memorial Day Parade. That event debuted in 1999.
John Ruffini said Domenico’s love of gardening and respect of the U.S. military contributed handsomely to the establishment of that memorial park.
The memorial is situated on a well-placed, albeit small, piece of land which Domenico envisioned to have plenty of flowers, a flagpole and four stones commemorating veterans of the armed services from Avon Grove High School. There would also be a special stone for those who had given their lives in service to their country.
To this day, John said, the memorial has never been the victim of any vandalism. More recently, he added, the impressive landscaping has been assumed by four local mushroom companies, which has resulted in an impressive array of plantings and bright colors.
There is also a small dais at one corner of the memorial park that serves as the site for speeches toward the conclusion of another Domenico project—the annual parade.
John Ruffini said that after creating the memorial park, they took a look at the Memorial Day parades in Kennett Square and Oxford, and thought it would be a good idea to have one in West Grove, too. In 1998, they organized a committee to get it organized and were pleasantly surprised to have wide and cooperative community support, especially from the high school.
The early parades began with the usual fire trucks, old cars and school band, and has been expanding ever since. It also includes a short speech by a veteran or relative of a former service member, a 21-gun salute, music, lunch at the church up the street and they laying of the wreath at the stone that bears the names of the fallen, which was laid by Domenico until 2019.
The parade is traditionally held on the Saturday before Memorial Day at 9 a.m. in consideration of the parades in nearby towns that occur on Memorial Day itself.
“It’s always well-attended, and we hardly have to get out much publicity. Everybody knows it’s on Saturday at 9 a.m., and they all just show up,” John Ruffini said.
Through the years, the weather has been good to West Grove’s parade.
“It’s only been cancelled by rain once and then this year with the pandemic,” the younger Ruffini said. And as far as finding speakers or participants, it has been easily done as well.
The heart and soul of the parade is inside the barber shop, which is energized by customers who have been stopping by for years and years – by John Ruffini’s reckoning, it’s four generations in some cases. Several visitors include Tampa Bay Rays player and Avon Grove graduate Joey Wendle and the late Dallas Green, who was a longtime executive in Major League baseball.
On a recent visit, longtime customer Jim Torello, who has been getting his hair cut there for years and has seen this town grow, said, “I was born and raised here. My father ran a deli in the borough. It’s a great place to live and work.”
He added he felt is was a well-run and friendly town with very little crime.
Joe O’Connor, another longtime customer, said he has seen a lot of changes in the West Grove area -- and even in the barber shop -- ever since the retail and housing expansion in and around the borough came about. “It used to be that everyone rooted for the Baltimore Orioles, but now they are all Phillies fans since the growth. Philadelphia and Baltimore are actually the same distance away, but the makeup of the population has differed,” he said.
But even with the changes over time, much has remained the same.
One of those is the train running through the middle of town within sight of the barber shop.
“It goes through without fail at least three times a week. The kids run up and look out the window at it,” John Ruffini said.
Another is the flexibility and friendliness exhibited within those walls.
“Mohawk, long hair, flat-tops, buzz cuts: We’ll do whatever they want. Give me a picture and I’ll do it,” he said.
Likewise, the decorations and paraphernalia that adorn the walls express the spirit within. That includes references to old cars, especially Fords, as well as music.
“I love all music from Top 30s and everything. It’s the art that adorns the profession,” John Ruffini said.
As for the memorable times, there have been a few from the bad (on September 11) to the ecstatic (when they celebrated the Phillies winning of the World Series in 2008 with a town parade).
John Ruffini said he just wants to continue in this beloved West Grove tradition.
“Where else can you go and see [generations of the same family] having their hair cut or talk to a stranger in the barber chair next to you about events of the day? In West Grove, it’s Ruffinis Barber Shop,” he said.