JERSEY CITY, NJ - A day before Gilbert Rossi turned 90 years old, his staff at Cappelli Hair Salon on Mallory Avenue in Jersey City arranged for a unique birthday present.

Lisa, one his hairdressers, called around to the salon’s clients to get them to do a drive by as a show of support for the man and the salon after several months being closed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rossi has owned and operated a salon in Jersey City for 60 years.

For a man who started his career as a barber, seeing the cars roll by his shop was one of the great memories of his long life. “I turned 90 on Sunday,” he said. “The drive by took place on Saturday and I couldn’t believe so many people turned out.”

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Rossi started cutting hair as a barber at age 13. The sixth boy in a family of nine, he took his place in his father’s shop when it was his turn. His father, a barber, had come to the United States in 1908, settling into Jersey City.

“He lived in Jersey City for nine years when he heard that they needed barbers in Steelton, PA, which had steel mills,” where he married a farmer’s daughter. “My father was an artist, too,” Rossi said, a talent Rossi’s daughter apparently inherited.

Meals in his home growing were always interesting.

“My mother used to tell us that she wasn’t running a restaurant. We tended to eat at different times during the day,” Rossi said.

Rossi was born in Steelton, and graduated from high school there, working in his father’s shop until he was 20, after which he spent four years in the U.S. Navy. When he came out of service, he started a hair salon called the “Silver Blond Salon” located on Kennedy Boulevard. He later moved his shop to Mallory --- across the street from his home where he has done business ever since.

Rossi admits he is not computer savvy but didn’t come to realize how much he needed computers until the pandemic when nearly everything he needed to do required his accessing the internet. “I had to get my daughter to help me,” he said.

Rossi had a bout with COVID-19 during the shutdown.

“I suffered a minor stroke on Easter Sunday,” he said. “This happens often.”

He really didn’t want to go to the hospital on Easter. When he eventually did, he wound up waiting in the Emergency Room for 30 hours where he believes in contracted COVID-19. “They didn’t really isolate people. They gave me the test. It came up clean. But I didn’t feel comfortable,” he said. “So many people around me there had it. So, I went for another test and this came out positive. I self-isolated. I had a temperature of 99 and a couple of coughs. The rest of the 14 days was like a vacation.”

At 90, Rossi still cuts hair and his salon does hair dressing services, but he no longer does any of the barber work he did as a kid.

When asked what he is most proud of, Rossi had to think about it for a while.

“I’m a humble person,” he said. “I don’t say ‘me’, I say ‘we.’ Maybe that’s what I'm most proud of, that whatever I’ve done was because of the people around me. They helped make me what I am.”

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