Putting Down the Scissors After 44 Years

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About 44 years ago, a young Sal Araimo came to Rockaway looking for a summer job at a salon. Now he’ll be starting the new year looking toward something new—retirement. The popular hairstylist at Strands is cutting the ends of a long, successful career.

At around 17 years old, Araimo, who was living in Ozone Park at the time, took his chances at a summer gig in Rockaway. “My aunt was friendly with a guy named Adolf who had a salon on Beach 116th Street. She said, 'He's looking for haircutters as his son wanted the front of the shop to be unisex. I was working for someone in Howard Beach and I told him about the opportunity, and he said go for it. I got the job. That was 44 years ago,” Araimo said.

Unlike some kids that went off to college, Araimo found himself on a different path. “I didn’t want to go to college, so I went to beauty school because a few friends were going. I just did it to waste time,” Araimo said. However that time wasted turned out to be time well spent, as Araimo has spent his entire career behind the chair, with scissors in hand, beautifying clients and serving as their unofficial therapist.

Following a roughly two-year stint as an assistant at Adolf’s, Araimo wound up jumping around from different salons around Rockaway, including one he worked at for his former sister-in-law, followed by a seven-year stint working for Gary on Beach Channel Drive.

After gaining enough experience, Araimo decided to work for himself. He went on to open his own shop—Salon Avanti—on Beach Channel Drive. “My favorite memory of my career was the day I was able to open up Salon Avanti since I owned it myself,” he said. Araimo says the business was a success, however, after going through a messy divorce, he was forced to give up the business.

Araimo resumed working for other salons and wound up working with Diane Liello and Gerri Stanksy. The trio was considering opening their own spot when they got word of a store that would soon be available. “I spoke to the landlord and we made a handshake deal and we got the store,” Araimo said. That store, located at Beach 115th Street and Beach Channel Drive, would become the home of Strands, which opened on April 1, 2004. “It was a great place to work,” Araimo said of the original salon. Then Sandy came.

Sandy threw everyone at Strands for a loop and coming back wasn’t easy. “W weren’t being helped by anybody financially,” Araimo said. The shakeup made Araimo realize that he wanted to step back from the business aspect of the salon. “I decided it was best for me not to go back into business with the ladies. They were younger and I knew they could handle it on their own,” Araimo said, however that wasn’t the end of his stint at Strands. After Liello and Stansky reopened the new location at 104-6 Rockaway Beach Boulevard, Araimo rented a chair from them to continue his work and serve his clients.

For Araimo, his time with Strands over the last 14 years has been meaningful and a highlight of his career. In 2005, just one year after Strands opened, the salon was recognized by the Rockaway Chamber of Commerce as Business of the Year. “That was a wonderful honor,” Araimo said. The other major highlight? Making his clients feel good. “The other thing that has meant a lot to me is giving someone a haircut that’s fabulous and she tells me she gets compliments wherever she goes, it makes me realize, ‘wow, I did that.’”

Now on the verge of retirement, Araimo says it’s those longtime clients that he’ll miss most. “I’m going to miss the people. I’ve developed quite a relationship with them. They’re in mourning knowing I’m retiring. They tell me, 'Can't you come back on weekends or once a month?’ They’re happy for me but sad for them because they’re going to miss the relationship I formed with them, and not to mention their therapy sessions. It’s a lot more than cutting hair,” Araimo said of his job.

Although parting is bittersweet, Araimo says the time is right after a long, rewarding career. “It’s best to go out on a high note. I’m happy I did this. My clients have been wonderful. Many have welcomed me into their homes and as part of their family, and I’ve had the honor of going to some weddings and even Bat Mitzvahs. It’s been a wonderful career,” he said. 

New Year’s Eve will be Araimo’s final day at Strands and he’s looking forward to celebrating retirement in the New Year. “It feels great to retire. I’m looking forward to it,” he said. And he’s not just retiring from the hair salon, but Rockaway, where he’s lived for the past 30 years. “I moved here because I loved the beach and I always wanted to live here. I’ll always have the sand in my toes,” he said, however starting January 9, he’ll have the sands of a different beach in his toes. Hoping to escape the cold, Araimo is moving to Delray Beach, Fl. However, he says he won’t be too far from home. “Half of Rockaway is there. I went down there and I had a Rockaway Times t-shirt on and someone passes me and says, ‘I’m on Rockaway time too,” he said.

Araimo says he’s not sure if he’ll pick up the scissors again, but he does have some retirement plans. “I’m going to take some courses, try to write a book, and travel,” he said. And after many years of standing for several hours at work, he says, “I’m looking forward to sitting in a beach chair.”

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