So long, Sal

November 07, 1994|By Beverly K. Fine

AFTER 34 years at the same northwest Baltimore location, Salvatore Glorioso, philosopher, poet and barber extraordinaire recently retired to Sun City, Ariz. A wizard with scissors, Sal is also "a man for all seasons."

Sitting in Sal's squeaky but sturdy black leather barber chair, men's minds, as well as their heads, were shaped. Sal's wit is as pungent as his after-shave lotion. And his old-world wisdom widened narrow-minded views of some of his customers on contemporary issues.

For instance, some customers would complain that too many members of racial minority groups were moving to the area around Sal's Patterson Barber Shop, which was located on Reisterstown Road at Patterson Avenue. Sal would reply: "Who do you think made America? Weren't we all minorities when we came here?"

Sal has the utmost respect for people's differences. For instance, on Yom Kippur, though he was a Roman Catholic, Sal closed his shop out of respect for his Jewish customers, who comprised a majority of his business.

I think about Sal and others who have helped to build this country of immigrants when I read about how immigration has become a politically explosive issue in some states. Tomorrow California voters will decide on Proposition 187, which, if passed, would deny government services like public schools to immigrants.

The immigration foes complain that they don't want to pay to provide government services to immigrants. Some also claim that immigrants are taking Americans' jobs. However, many studies have shown that immigrants give more to the economy than they receive. Earlier this year, Business Week reported that immigrants earn $240 billion a year, pay $90 billion in taxes and receive only $5 billion in services. Some 18 percent of immigrants start new small businesses.

With this in mind, I think of Sicilian-born Sal's journey from his village by the Mediterranean Sea to the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. His transformation from a poor immigrant to a prosperous small business owner is instructive to those who would halt immigration.

In 1929, when Sal was 7 weeks old, his family sailed to the United States, settling in Chicago. His father, Frank Glorioso, spoke no English, had difficulty finding a job and struggled to support his wife and four children. Moreover, the stock market crash and the ensuing Depression forced the family to move to Baltimore and live temporarily with relatives.

Too proud to accept public assistance, Frank returned with his family to their former home in Cefalu, Sicily, where he resumed his trade of cabinet maker. Working from his home, Frank's creative hands designed and built the type of fine furniture displayed today in major art museums and featured in exclusive auction salons such as Sotheby's.

For 17 years, the family remained in Cefalu. Though Frank earned a satisfactory income exporting his furniture, he yearned to return to the United States. Finally, in 1948, when Sal was 18, the family returned to America. The move was fortuitous.

In Baltimore, the family became naturalized citizens, and Frank got a job in the trade he loved. Sal went to work as a tool-and-die worker at Martin Marietta. With Sal's two brothers also employed, the family was able to buy a house near what is now Reisterstown Road Plaza.

Sal's future was formed, however, by a chance meeting with a fellow Italian, Salvatore Porpura. They met at Porpura's barber shop in downtown Baltimore. The two Sicilians' families had been friends in the old country.

As often happens, love entered Sal's life suddenly and unexpectedly. Porpura invited Sal home for dinner. One glance at the flashing dark green eyes and long raven tresses of Concetta Porpura, his host's 19-year-old daughter, and Sal knew that he had fallen in love. Concetta felt likewise.

While courting Concetta, Sal was encouraged by Porpura to attend barber school at night. After his graduation, however, the romance was interrupted in 1951 when Sal was drafted for military service in the Korean War.

During Sal's absence, Porpura purchased a house on a large lot on Reisterstown Road, opposite what is now Reisterstown Road Plaza. Soon he accepted a developer's deal to build a small shopping center on the property; shrewd Porpura ended up owner and manager of the new stores. Anticipating marriage between Sal and Porpura's only daughter, he included a barber shop in the center.

When the war ended, Sal, a decorated war hero, returned to Baltimore. And, in 1958, he and Concetta were married at Saint Ambrose Church on Park Heights Avenue. As Porpura had planned, he presented Sal with the keys to the barber shop that he had operated while Sal was in the military. Until Papa Porpura's retirement a few years ago, the two Sals worked together in the barber shop. Later, Sal became the sole owner of the shop and the adjoining stores. Porpura, of course, shared the rental profits until his death a year ago.

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