Famed East Village barbershop facing closure saved by wealthy donors

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Monday, November 23, 2020
Famed NYC barbershop facing closure saved by wealthy donors
Lucy Yang reports a longtime barbershop in the East Village has been saved from closure after a last-minute reprieve from wealthy New Yorkers.

EAST VILLAGE, Manhattan (WABC) -- A longtime barbershop in the East Village that was slated to close because of the coronavirus pandemic has received a last-minute reprieve thanks to a group of wealthy New Yorkers.

The owners of Astor Place Hairstylists had said it has been impossible to turn a profit, even since reopening in June.

The shop has weathered tough times before during its nearly 75-year history, but with added expenses and fewer customers, the plan was to shut down right before Thanksgiving.

But now, money has now been raised in the hopes of keeping Astor Place open for another three-quarters of a century. The effort was led by financier Jonathan Trichter, Michael Bloomberg advisor and Hillary Clinton aide Howard Wolfson, real estate developer Jeffrey Gural, and pollster Jeff Pollack.

"We're just a bunch of guys who wanted to do something good," Trichter said. "And this is what we decided to do."

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Despite putting COVID-19 safeguards in place when they reopened over the summer, owner Paul Vezza said business was down nearly 90%.

"We tried to make a go of it," Vezza told Eyewitness News last month. "We need more than this to cover the expenses and the money. It flows out like water."

Vezza was able to keep the barbershop open after 9/11 and the financial crash, but COVID seems to have taken too much of a toll.

"We tried and tried and plugged away," he said. "We're fighters. We're not just gong to go down without a fight."

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A New York bookstore has survived the Great Depression and two World Wars, but are now in danger of going out of business due to the pandemic.

His grandfather first opened the shop in the 1940s and ran the store with his dad.

"We came out of college. Here for a summer and never left -- came here from college and never left," Vezza said.

The barbershop has always been the place to go, and stylist Valentino Gogu has worked seven days a week and cut Robert De Niro's hair and rubbed elbows with the mayor, who is a regular customer.

"People stood in line outside, nobody could get in, there was no room, no AC, people would bring soda and a sandwich because it was nonstop, 8 to 8, nonstop," he said.

In the chair you might find everyone from hip hop royalty like LL Cool J to actors and artists like Keith Haring, who would give them his sketches.

"The celebrities, it was nice when they'd come, but we made our bread and butter off the working man," Vezza said.

"I didn't see any of my kids' baseball or soccer," John Vezza said. "This is going to be our first Thanksgiving weekend off since 16."

Thanksgiving will be very emotional this year. But the owners have a lot for which to be grateful for.

Their shop stays open, the entire staff keeps their jobs and the brothers will finally have time to relax.


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