As he gathers up his scissors, clippers and combs for the last time at Diane's Salon on Nov. 26, Steve Cervelli has a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving holiday.
"I've just loved this area – I've loved working here, I have been blessed to work for great people and with great co-workers," he says as he retires from his job as a barber at Ladera Country Shopper for more than 40 years.
Starting with this holiday, he's ready at age 70 to spend more time with his family and friends, play golf, and travel.
His wife of almost 50 years, Maureen, recently retired from her human resources position with a medical group in the South Bay. And their daughter, too, retired from her hairdressing job in San Francisco.
Their son works at Apple and will continue on as one of Cervelli's two remaining customers. The other is the barber's 18-year-old grandson, who likes getting his buzz cuts for free.
Otherwise, the century-old, 8-foot-long wooden barber sign that has hung in Portola Valley for so many years will now serve as a wall decoration at the Cervellis' home in San Jose.
"I won't miss the commute," Cervelli says.
He cut back his weekly work schedule to four days a couple of years ago, then to three days, and this year, two days, he says.
His last day of appointments is already filled with regulars eager to get in one last trim.
Cervelli figures about 10 of his customers have been coming to him for 40 years. He names "some of the old-timers," clients such as the late singer Tennessee Ernie Ford and Portola Valley pioneer Walter Jelich.
"This area has changed tremendously in the last 47 years – it has gotten more upscale. There used be horses tied up at the shopping center," he recalls. "It's not country anymore."
"Most of my customers are a little older, not the newer generation of Silicon Valley. ... most have made it on their own and are grounded," he says.
One man works in Thailand and comes in every few weeks for a haircut. Other clients usually come in every four to six weeks, and in the 20 minutes it takes Cervelli to trim head and facial hair they rarely discuss business.
"We just talk about other things ... travel, stuff they like to do," he notes.
He has been cutting hair since he was a teenager. His neighbor in San Mateo was a barber and encouraged him to go to barber school in San Francisco.
Right after high school, Cervelli spent a semester training to be a barber, went to College of San Mateo for two years, and then earned his teaching credential at San Jose State.
He found cutting hair was a good way to make money during college. Married at 20 and soon thereafter a father of two, he needed the income.
He taught history and government for a couple of years, but was finding it hard to move upward and onward. Then, barber Rod Lahman called to ask: Would he consider buying The Razor's Edge at Ladera Country Shopper?
That was in 1976, when haircuts cost $2.70.
Cervelli said yes, and ran the barbershop until 13 years ago, when a new owner took over the shopping center and raised the rent. Diane Pham owned the salon right next door and ended up taking over Cervelli's space for her nail business. He and two of his colleagues packed up their gear and switched to renting chairs at Diane's Salon.
Wearing casual clothes, Crocs, a warm smile, glasses and short white hair, Cervelli comes across as a friendly, calm person. In all his years he has never nicked a customer, not even when the 1989 Loma Prieta quake hit, and he and his customer dashed outside as racks of hair-care products spilled onto the floor.
When children are upset about getting their hair cut the best way to stop the crying, he has found, is to get the parents to leave and go out for a short walk.
Cervelli has been practicing Buddhism for 50 years. He's been to Japan four times, but says most of his involvement is local – through Soka Gakkai International, or SGI, a community-based lay organization with 4,500 to 5,000 members in San Jose.
During retirement he expects to increase the 15 to 20 hours each week he spends within the community doing "a lot of visiting people, chatting with people, volunteering at the community center, fixing things."
And maybe he'll find time to go "have coffee with people," because, he laughs, he's heard that's what retirees do.