If you knew Gina Belardino, you most likely knew she loved her tortoises, Norm and Shelly, her latest rescue dog Angel, her cat, Lily and that she worked with her daughter Jennifer for 32 years at the South Wedge Barber Shop. And, she was a big fan of the Rolling Stones.
Gina opened the barber shop April 1, 1986 in in the Art Deco building at 732 South Ave. and worked out of there for five years. When it came time to renew the lease, she moved to 720 South, had 30 days to gut a lawyer’s office and turn it into ‘Gina’s World’ – a space where people could relax, bring their dogs, check in on the resident tortoise and leave feeling great after their haircut. She had plants all over the place as well as an eclectic mix of art, knickknacks , tchotchkes and a bucket of large chalks for doodling. At the time of her 30th anniversary, she said bought the building 20 years earlier, “when it was affordable.”
She used her business to support equal rights and made lifelong friends of her customers. At the time when the Barber Shop opened, there was only the late Bobbie Moore’s place at 644 South. Having three barber shops on the 700 block of South Avenue didn’t make a difference to her since they all had their own followings. Her great passion was walking beaches from Lake Ontario to Cape Cod and Costa Rica. Not only did she pick up litter at Durand Eastman Beach and donate the money from returnables to the volunteer firefighters, she also collected beach glass, rocks and driftwood to display for their natural beauty. She loved sitting on her porch, relaxing, watching birds, fox, chipmunks and dreaming of deer-resistant plants.
At the time of the 30th anniversary, she had no plans for retirement and said, “I don’t have time to be sick.” But there were bumps in the road. She had already overcame two bouts with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, had a heart issues a year ago and didn’t return to the shop.
Gina’s daughters Tiffany and Jennifer, along with close friend Dr. William Valenti were with her on May 25, as music of the Rolling Stones played softly, and she passed peacefully. A celebration of her life was held on June 9th.
Her full name was Eugena R. Belardino. She was born in Rochester, went to St. Agnes High School and truly valued her family, friends, nature, animals and the arts. From her tattoos to her purple hair blowing in the wind as she drove her convertible silver Solara with one of her loyal rescue dogs riding shotgun, this devoted mother and friend will be fondly remember for her free spirit.
According to her wishes, donations may be made to pet Adoption Network, 4261 Culver Road, Rochester, NY 14622, or to Trillium Health, 259 Monroe Ave., Suite 100, Rochester, NY 14607