Joe Reilly was walking up the stairs from his barbershop to his apartment to make a lunchtime sandwich when he heard what he thought was a bomb going off.
The 84-year-old barber spun around. It wasn’t an explosive. It was a red Subaru, entirely inside his Delaware County storefront.
He’d later learn that a woman who was coming in for a hair appointment had inadvertently slammed through the front of the building, somehow — mind-bogglingly — missing the five employees and a patron who were inside. The front of Reilly’s 54-year-old business was destroyed and the building was rendered structurally unstable.
“I looked at the car, and just thought, ‘What are we gonna do?’ ” said Reilly. That was on May 8. There are still a couple months of work to be done before Reilly’s Hairstyling is safe to occupy again, and it seemed for a while that he’d be out of work during that time. But thanks to some goodwill from a stranger, Reilly, who is something of an institution in Aston, hasn’t had to put down his shears.
The day the Subaru plowed through the front of the building, Rosanne DiDomenicis walked out of her own salon, Bei Capelli, located just a few hundred yards away, to see what the commotion was about. She’d never met Reilly before, but when she saw the look of shock on his face and wondered how he’d pay his bills while the shop was under reconstruction — rumors were already swirling about how long it could take — she began to cry.
So DiDomenicis approached Reilly and told him she had a couple empty chairs at Bei Capelli and he’d be welcome to work there until he got back on his feet. She didn’t want anything in return. He waved away the offer as he dealt with police, contractors, and insurance.
For the next three weeks, Reilly was out of work, living in a hotel paid for by insurance while the car was lodged up against a structural beam in the barbershop. He was going nuts. For years, folks had been telling him to think about retirement, but there’s something about cutting someone’s hair and making conversation — about “everything from the Iggles, and the Phillies, the Sixers, Donald Trump” — that keeps Reilly in his shop.
“You really do build up friendships,” he said.
Itching to get back to work, Reilly decided to take DiDomenicis up on her offer. So for the last several weeks, this 84-year-old Irish man has been seeing his longtime clients inside Bei Capelli, which means “beautiful hair” in Italian, next to DiDomenicis’ daughter, Giavanna, a stylist who specializes in modern hair painting and makeup.
“He’s one of us. He just fits in,” Roseanne DiDomenicis said. “This is a family here, and now he’s a part of it.”
Meanwhile, the women who worked for Reilly have also landed elsewhere for the time being. A few of them were hired at Shapes and Styles Hair Studio, also in Aston, which had a few open chairs and space for them to work. While owner Michael Ciaramella said he has “no idea” what’s going to happen once Reilly’s Hairstyling is up and running again, for now the arrangement is working out for everyone.
“They’re hard workers, real nice people, and they appreciate what we’re doing,” he said. “It’s good for everybody. It’s a win-win.”
As for Reilly, while he’s, of course, ready to get back to his own space, he’s been surprised by how easily Bei Capelli has come to feel like home.
“For 54 years, I’ve been doing my own thing,” he said. “But I feel like I’ve been here forever. I was a nervous wreck, but they made me feel so comfortable.”
He’ll stay at Bei Capelli until construction on his shop is finished and it’s determined safe enough to enter. But if it were up to DiDomenicis?
That’s easy, she said: “We don’t want him to go.”