The “closed” sign hangs in the window of Belmar Barber Shop. A bouquet of flowers rests in a pot on the sidewalk out front. After 61 years of cutting hair on Main Street, proprietor Vincent Apicelli died in late December of COVID pneumonia.
He was 81 years old, and his passing was the start of an unthinkable turn of events for his family.
Vincent’s 51-year-old son, Vinnie Apicelli, who lived with him in Wall, also contracted the virus. Vinnie already was battling multiple myeloma, having endured several rounds of chemotherapy to treat the blood cancer, and now he's on a ventilator at Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune, according to his mother and sister.
“I’ve never had to go through something like this before,” said Ellen Apicelli, Vincent’s wife and Vinnie’s mother, who also caught COVID as it tore through the household but managed to recover. “I can’t even sleep at night. What am I supposed to do? I don’t know where to turn.”
A GoFundMe campaign for Vinnie, a father of three including a 9-year-old daughter, has raised over $24,000 so far.
“A lot of people are shaken up by him deteriorating so fast, especially since he was on the road to fighting back against the cancer,” said friend Rich Gill, who launched the fundraiser. “He’s a good father, a good man. Even after he started the chemo, he was still picking (9-year-old) Ashley up at school. He was still showing up at her games and practices.”
The Apicelli family’s sudden hardships are echoing through a community where they have deep roots.
Barber shop 'an institution'
Vincent Apicelli was born and raised in Asbury Park. Along with two partners, he opened Belmar Barber Shop in the early 1960s.
Ed Kirschenbaum, Belmar’s business manager, said he landed his first job there as a 10-year-old in 1965.
“I swept the floors, cleaned the mirrors and shined shoes,” Kirschenbaum said.
At 11, Apocelli gave him a seat at the shop.
“I bought my own Wahl clippers and I was doing crew cuts for little kids,” Kirschenbaum said.
As he returned over and over through the years, Kirschenbaum said he marveled at how little changed in the shop.
“Same Coke machine was there as when I was a kid, same trophy case with pictures in it,” he said. “It was an institution.”
Ellen Apicelli met Vincent there in the late 1960s.
“I was walking down to the hardware store to get a mailbox, he was looking out the window and of course he smiled at me,” she said. “I smiled at him. If you see something you like, you go after it. So I stopped in there later and asked his partner, ‘Is he single?’”
They were married for 53 years.
“I couldn’t ask for a better husband,” she said. “He was very kind. I loved him so much.”
She did not, however, let him cut her hair.
“He tried to cut my bangs and I said, ‘No, that’s too short,'” Ellen recalled. “I used to do my own. He did have a lot of loyal customers, though. A lot.”
Delia Siboni-Kelly saw that up close. The owner of Delia’s Mane Street beauty salon, right next door to Belmar Barber Shop, brought Vincent his favorite French cruller doughnuts for 42 years.
“The man beat me to work every day,” she said. “He was a good friend, a good neighbor. I don’t know what it’s like to come here without him. There are people who never had another barber.”
In the end, Apicelli couldn’t retire and leave them behind.
“He kept working just to have something to do,” said daughter Tina Apicelli, who lives in Mississippi. “He enjoyed the camaraderie with people.”
Tina has been hospitalized after undergoing heart surgery and suffering two strokes, adding to the family’s trauma.
“It’s just terrible,” she said.
A bad fall, then some bad news
Back in the fall, Vinnie Apicelli was umpiring a softball game when he slipped in some mud and fell. He thought he’d pulled a muscle or bruised a rib. When the back pain persisted he sought medical attention.
“Doctors told him his kidneys were shutting down,” Gill said.
Tests revealed multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that is incurable but treatable by therapies that can slow its progression substantially. Gill said Vinnie was doing better when COVID struck.
“It’s devastating,” he said.
At a time when the Apicelli family should be commemorating the elder Vinnie’s life and remarkable career, everyone is waiting on edge for updates from the hospital.
“Hopefully he recovers from this,” Gill said. “He’s a fighter. He was beating up on cancer, so I figure he can fight COVID.”
To contribute to the fundraiser for Vinnie Apicelli, search “Help local dad diagnosed with stage 4 cancer” at www.GoFundMe.com.
Written By Jerry Carino