Sitting in this South Wedge barber’s chair is a trip to a quirky wonderland 

click to enlarge Jennifer Belardino, owner of the South Wedge Barber Shop, with her dog, Angel.

PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE

Jennifer Belardino, owner of the South Wedge Barber Shop, with her dog, Angel.

To residents of the South Wedge, Jennifer Belardino is a neighborhood icon.

The eccentric hair stylist, who owns and operates South Wedge Barber Shop, has been cutting hair there for 35 years — and the reciprocal loyalty between her and her customer base runs deep.

Theirs is a bond forged over decades of Belardino serving her clients not only with scissors and clippers, but as a friend, a confidante, and sometimes a therapist. She has had a front-row seat to hundreds of marriages and divorces, births and deaths, tragedies and miracles, and gossip — a whole lot of gossip, about which Belardino is tight-lipped. What happens in the South Wedge Barber Shop stays in the South Wedge Barber Shop.

click to enlarge Jennifer Belardino cuts Jeanette Fulton's hair. Fulton lives in Greece and has been going to Belardino at the South Wedge Barber Shop for more than 25 years. - PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • Jennifer Belardino cuts Jeanette Fulton's hair. Fulton lives in Greece and has been going to Belardino at the South Wedge Barber Shop for more than 25 years.
“It's the second job I've had in my life,” said Belardino, 52, whose first job was as a school nurse’s aide. “I don’t think I’m going anywhere.”

She spoke from behind a chair in her shop, a quirky wonderland of bright colors, 1930s-era antique furniture, and an array of tchotchkes and wall hangings, each holding their own stories and sweet memories.

There’s a framed Rolling Stones ticket — the first time her late mom, Gina, saw them in concert back in 1981. Nearby, there’s a frame with dried flowers from the funeral of one of her beloved customers. There are the mustaches — bushy ones, pencil-thin ones, curlicued ones — plastered and placed around the room, a not-so-subtle nod to customers who have asked her to trim theirs.

click to enlarge Among the tchotchkes and memories that adorn the South Wedge Barber Shop is a ticket to a Rolling Stones concert that the shop's late original owner, Gina Belardino, saw in 1981. - PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • Among the tchotchkes and memories that adorn the South Wedge Barber Shop is a ticket to a Rolling Stones concert that the shop's late original owner, Gina Belardino, saw in 1981.
“There are palm trees. There are stars,” she said, scanning the room. “There's a lot of animal stuff. Gotta have your mermaids. You’ve got your drag queens up behind me.”
She laughs. She knows she’s an odd bird.

Then there are the shop’s permanent residents: a 20-year-old tortoise named Norm, who can usually be found minding his own business in an enormous tank in the corner of the room, and Angel, a dirty-blonde mixed-breed pup whom Belardino calls “the empress, because she's way beyond a queen.”

“She was a rescue from Lollypop,” said Belardino, who encourages her customers to bring their own dogs, as long as they know who’s boss. “And she is spoiled rotten. She suckers customers into getting her treats.”

click to enlarge Norm the tortoise can usually be found minding his own business in his enormous tank in the corner of the South Wedge Barber shop. His owner, Jennifer Belardino, says he inspires her to stay in her shell. - PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • Norm the tortoise can usually be found minding his own business in his enormous tank in the corner of the South Wedge Barber shop. His owner, Jennifer Belardino, says he inspires her to stay in her shell.
Originally two doors down from where it sits at the corner of South Avenue and Burkhard Place, the shop quickly developed a small fan base when Gina opened it in 1986. Belardino recalled watching her mom in awe and, as a teenager, deciding to go to cosmetology school to follow in her footsteps. She started cutting hair at the salon when she was 17.

Webster resident Steve Fornof is one of the shop’s loyal customers. Originally a client of Gina’s, he started getting his hair cut by Belardino back when he was sporting a classic ’80s mullet and she was a brand-new stylist.

“It's not just a barbershop,” he said, explaining why he’s a customer for life. “It's family to me.”

click to enlarge The South Wedge Barber Shop at the corner of South Avenue and Burkhard Place. - PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • The South Wedge Barber Shop at the corner of South Avenue and Burkhard Place.
In 1991, when the Belardinos moved to their current location at 720 South Ave., Fornof helped them renovate.

Belardino remembers the space being in desperate need of TLC.

“It had dropped ceilings and paneling — you know, the really cheap, cheesy brown paneling,” she said. “It had carpeting. It was ugly. It was bad.”

With only 30 days to move, Belardino, her mom, and Fornof worked around the clock to transform the dull space into what it is today.

Thirty-one years later, the heart and soul of the salon remain intact — even if the nostalgia is bittersweet; Gina died in 2019.

click to enlarge Jennifer Belardino, owner of the South Wedge Barber Shop, keeps a photo of her late mother, Gina, nearby. Gina started the business in 1986. She died in 2019. - PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • Jennifer Belardino, owner of the South Wedge Barber Shop, keeps a photo of her late mother, Gina, nearby. Gina started the business in 1986. She died in 2019.
The sole owner, Belardino said she takes a cue from Norm in the tank and very much stays in her shell.

The Irondequoit native now lives in the apartment above the shop. Her animals are her family, and as a self-described introvert, she enjoys laying low and hanging out with them when she’s not working. It’s her way to refuel.

“If I was a smart businesswoman, I'd be renting out all this space,” she said, gesturing toward the chair where her mother used to cut hair, which now stands empty in memoriam. “But I don't have the patience or the drama to have anybody else here.”

Her love of her work and customers made the early days of the pandemic especially hard. These days, she only allows a few people in the shop at a time, while yearning for the bustle and camaraderie of the pre-COVID world.

“The only thing I miss is having more people in here at one time so customers can socialize, but it is what it is,” she said, placing a leopard-print cape on her next customer and grabbing her clippers. “I'd rather just be cutting hair than not. I'll do whatever I can to cut hair.”

Jasmin Singer is a WXXI News reporter and weekend host. She can be reached at [email protected].
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