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Facing closure, longtime Ellicott City barbershop finds new life

Two longtime barbershops in Howard County were on the brink of permanently closing this year.

Sal’s and Andy’s barbershops — both in Ellicott City — have been staples in Howard County for more than 40 years, but the coronavirus pandemic and other factors led the owners of the two shops to decide to close down this year.

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Sal’s owner isn’t renewing the building’s lease, while Andy’s was closed for much of the year due to the pandemic.

In an effort to keep one of the two longtime barbershops alive in the county, retain the jobs of Sal’s barbers and achieve a personal dream, Sal’s barber Anthony Cirri is now renting and operating Andy’s Barber Shop.

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Cirri, 49, reopened Andy’s on Dec. 1, and several other barbers from Sal’s are joining Cirri once Sal’s officially closes Dec. 24.

“This will be my first time owning a shop,” Cirri said. “It’s exciting, but I’m also nervous, especially with the coronavirus.”

Sal’s owner Tony Aquila told his barbers in October that he wouldn’t be renewing the shop’s lease in December. On his way home that night, Cirri saw Andy’s Barber Shop, which had been closed for a couple months.

“The barbershop has just been sitting there,” Cirri said. “I stopped in one day, and [Andy’s] wife happened to be in the shop. I told her about Sal’s and how all of us barbers would be out of our jobs. I asked her if she’d consider leasing Andy’s to me. She said yes, and I went back to Sal’s and told the guys they’ve all got jobs if they want them.”

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Andy’s, opened by Andy Vallar on Route 40 in 1976, was known in the community for its military decorations and memorabilia. Vallar, 80, served in the Navy for about six years prior to opening the barbershop and stopped cutting hair in 2019 due to health problems.

“Andy was a great barber,” Cirri said.

Pat Vallar, Vallar’s wife, said that while it’s sad the old Andy’s is gone, she’s excited for what the barbershop will be under Cirri.

“At the shop, you knew everyone,” Pat Villar said. “You got to know people. It was home, and it was a community. It’s hard to get away from all that now, but it’s great that [Cirri] is coming over. I’m glad they’re keeping it a barbershop.”

In the blending of Sal’s and Andy’s, Cirri, an Edgewood resident, is achieving a dream he’s had for nearly 20 years.

He first considered becoming a barber when his son, Anthony “TJ” Cirri Jr., who has cerebral palsy and Noonan syndrome, started to get haircuts at Sal’s, which opened on Route 40 in 1970. Cerebral palsy affects a person’s ability to move and balance, while Noonan syndrome is a genetic disorder that relates to the development of several parts of the body.

Cirri wanted to be able to cut his son’s hair to make the process easier, but he also was impressed with how well TJ’s barber handled cutting the hair of someone with a developmental disability.

“What made me get involved in this is my son,” Cirri said.

Cirri, who grew up in Baltimore and raised his family in Howard County, told his wife, Lisa, in the early 2000s that he wanted to become a barber.

The schooling can cost nearly $20,000, Cirri said, so while working as a roof inspector he began to save money. Then Lisa Cirri, who also had Noonan syndrome, died from complications during brain surgery in 2005.

“With having a special needs son as well as a daughter, that put my life on hold,” Cirri said. “I needed to put all my focus on running the family. Taking care of them, working and losing my wife was a lot. Being a widower was tough on me.”

About 10 years after his wife died, Cirri finally had enough money saved to go to barber school at night for two years while working his roof inspection job. He became a barber about three years ago at Brian Bunce Barbers in Bel Air and then moved to Sal’s in 2019.

“I love it. I wish I had done it 20 years ago,” Cirri said about cutting hair. “I enjoy it very much. It’s everything I thought it would be and more.”

On his first day after taking over at Andy’s on Dec. 1, Cirri’s daughter, Ashley, brought TJ to the shop to get a haircut from his dad. Then, the family visited the grave of Lisa Cirri at St. Alphonsus Rodriguez Church cemetery in Woodstock.

“We told her everything that was going on and said a little prayer,” Cirri said. “I am most certain that she’s looking down, and she’s very happy that I’m doing this.”

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