Longtime Trenton barber who serves as a life coach for his customers gets a special honor

Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora said Joe Festa “has been an institution in this city for about 60 years and he’s still going strong.”

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Joe Festa speaks to a crowd while standing at a podium.

Joe Festa urged everyone to support Trenton during the ceremony. (David Matthau/WHYY)

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The man affectionately known as the “Mayor of Warren Street” in New Jersey’s capital city has received a special tribute.

More than 100 people came together Wednesday in front of 88-year-old Joe Festa’s State Barber Shop in Trenton, to celebrate the renaming of the 100 block of South Warren Street to Joe Festa Way.

Joe Festa and his family and friends applaud as a street sign reading "Joe Festa Way" is unveiled.
As family members and friends applaud, the JOE FESTA WAY street sign is unveiled. (David Matthau/WHYY)

Festa, who has been in the haircut business for 60 years, describes himself as a working man’s barber, serving as a life coach and psychologist for countless customers.

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“I don’t think there’s a barber in the country with a street named after him, it’s a great honor,” he said.

Joe Festa poses for a photo in his barber shop.
The “Mayor of Warren Street,” Joe Festa, in his barber shop. (David Matthau/WHYY)

An interesting start

Festa says he started cutting hair way back in the day after a judge told him he would get a suspended sentence if he cleaned up his act and found a new profession.

“I worked for the mob, I used to collect numbers.  [The judge] told me to find something decent and responsible, and I became a barber.”

Festa’s eldest daughter, Lisa Festa Hayden, said the recent honor was a testament to the impact that he’s had on the community.

“We know how awesome our dad is but to see people acknowledge him really shows people appreciate him, he’s shown so much love for the city and the street, so for him to have this honor, there are just no words,” she said.

Lisa’s husband Michael Hayden agreed.

“Joe lifts people up, he’s just kind, he’s got a basic wisdom, there’s no pretense with it, it’s just straightforward, humble, honest advice on how to live life the right way,” he said.

Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora said Joe Festa “has been an institution in this city for about 60 years and he’s still going strong.”

Maria Festa, Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora, and Joe Festa, left to right, pose for a photo.
Maria Festa, Joe’s wife, along with Trenton Mayor Gusciora and Joe Festa. (David Matthau/WHYY)

“We want to honor people that have dedicated themselves to the city. A lot of shopkeepers have shut doors and moved away, but Joe has remained strong and stayed with the city,” Gusciora said.

Festa said he was able to learn how to give haircuts after a barber took him under his wing as an apprentice, and then opened his own shop thanks to the kindness of a neighborhood resident.

All of these experiences, he said, reinforced his belief in generosity.

“He who does not do for others hardly does for himself. It’s time to give back,” he said. “My whole message is if you feel good doing it for others, you might feel good yourself.”

A cake with images of Joe Festa reads "Joe Festa Way."
After the sign unveiling everyone enjoyed a Joe Festa sheet cake. (David Matthau/WHYY)

He said Trenton is a great city that is ready for a rebirth, and everyone should support that effort.

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“Our country started right on the Delaware. We are ready, we are a capital city,” Festa said.

Gusciora said Festa is already a part of that rebirth.

“People love … his sage advice. He knows the stories of old Trenton, and how Trenton can be here again.”

Festa, who’s in excellent shape and stood outside in nothing but a sleeveless tee shirt in 40-degree weather during the street renaming ceremony, said a haircut costs $20 — “but if you don’t have it I’ll take whatever you’ve got.”

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