Retired salon owner loves life on cutting edge
Renee Rizzo, 93, isn’t enjoying along, happy retirement, at least not yet. Yes, she’s retired from her job as the owner of a hair salon in Bay Ridge. And she’s happy. But a long retirement? Well, it really hasn’t been that long since she put down her scissors and styling comb. “I only retired three years ago,” she tells a reporter during an interview at the Shore Hill Senior Center.
“So, you worked until you were 90?” the reporter asked. “That’s right,” Rizzo said, matter-of-factly. “I loved what I did and I did it as long as I could,” she said.
Rizzo is an example of how many senior citizens lives there lives in Bay Ridge. They work well into their senior years and then enjoy retirement in a neighborhood that is considered friendly to older adults. Bay Ridge has one of the largest populations of senior citizens in New York City, according to officials at Community Board 10.
Rizzo visits the Shore Hill Center, at 9000 Shore Road, often. She enjoys the center’s activities. Rizzo, who doesn’t look a day over 70, still drives a car. She is a member of the AARP’s Bay Ridge Chapter and belongs to the Red Hat Society, a group for post-menopausal women who meet or dinner. And yes, she does wear a red hat to the dinners.
She is a caregiver to one of her sons, who suffers from a debilitating illness. “He’s doing pretty good. I cook for him,” she said.
“She’s an amazing woman,” said Sister Frances Picone, director of the Shore Hill SeniorCenter. “I’d like to have her energy when I’m her age.”
She was born Renee Cassano in Calabria, Italy. She came to the U.S. in 1930 at the age of 11. The family lived in Queens for a short time, then moved to Bay Ridge. “My father was here before. He became a U.S. citizen and he got us to come over. My dad was here for six years. He went to night school to learn English,” she said.
Young Renee spoke no English. Although was old enough to be in the sixth grade at P.S. 102, “they put me in the second grade,” she said. A young teacher looked upon her with kindness and taught her how to count in English. “I used to mispronounce the number three. I used to say ‘two-ee.’ There’s no ‘th’ in Italian, so I found it hard to say ‘three.’ But I learned,” she said, smiling.
Within a year, Renne jumped two grades to the fourth grade and was caught up to her peers within another year. She graduated from the eighth grade and went on to Girl’s Commercial High School, which was located on Eastern Parkway. She took typing and stenography classes. “I did not graduate from high school. My father said to me, ‘You’ve had enough education!’” she recalled.
Her father owned a shoe repair store that was located next to a hair salon. Renee’s sister Terre worked as an apprentice in the salon. “I wanted to do what she was doing. I went to beauty school,” she said. The two sisters eventually opened a salon together.
The salon, Tere Rina, was originally located on Third Avenue and 80th Street. After 40 years, the sisters then moved to 80th Street between Fourth and Fifth Avenues, where the salon operated for another 20 years. “I loved working there. I was like friends with my customers,” Renee said.
She and Terre saw a lot of hairstyles come and go over the years. “The layered look was always popular. You could do a lot with the layered look,” she said. In the mid-1970’s it was the Farrah Fawcett look that many women cultivated. Over the years, the styles that customers requested included the beehive and the Gibson. “In the 1950’s a lot of ladies wanted to look like Laraine Day,” she said. The actress had a much-imitated hairstyle.
Renee is one of five sisters. “We were always very close. We used to say that we were like a chain,” she said.
She met her husband, Andy Rizzo, at a dance at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Bensonhurst “right after World War Ii,” she said. Andy Rizzo had served in the army. What caught her eye? “Oh, he was so good looking!” she said, with a smile. “And charming. He was the most charming man you’d ever want to meet,” she said. The Rizzos were married in Our Lady of Guadalupe in 1947. The couple had three son. Andy Rizzo drove a delivery truck for the Waldbaum’s Supermarket chain for many years. He died eight years ago.
Renee Rizzo sais she can’t figure out why she has lived such a long life.”I’ve never exercised in my life,” she said.
Maybe her diet had something to do with it? “Maybe,” she answered. “I grew up in the Great Depression. No one had any money. “My father would buy one sirloin steak and cut it into little pieces. You only got one small piece of meat. And we ate a lot of lentil soup. They say beans are good for you.”
She has no secrets, she said. “I just try to enjoy life,” she said.