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R.I.P. Sonny Morandi

Sonny Morandi tattoo
How’s that for a shoulder patch? The Big Red One — First Infantry Division, US Army.

By Sonny Morandi (1931-2021)

My first job was just down the street on Johnson Farm, where the Church of the Open Bible is now. My job was picking pansies. If you were a picker or a weeder, you got 10 cents an hour. If you could use a tool, like a hoe, you got 20 cents an hour.

Every kid worked on a farm, and every kid got fired. You’d end up picking something you weren’t supposed to pick, like radishes, and you’d start throwing them at each other. Next thing you knew, we were fired. But we’d just go to another farm and get hired again. I picked apples from the orchard up behind Keans Road — and got fired for throwing them. We had German prisoners of war in town. They were forced into farm work. We threw things at them, of course. Usually rocks.

Given farm marked up.
Winnmere, 1920s. Ron Given photo.

When I was a teenager, I worked at my uncle’s store on Winn Street. His name was Joe Carbone. The store didn’t have a street address. There weren’t any addresses yet. I sold penny candy, and we set up tables outside, and I’d sell fireworks there.

My father was a barber with his own place in Woburn center. When I got out of Germany during the Korean War, he was on my case about becoming a barber. I had a job driving a bread truck and happened to pass by New England Barber School in Boston. I surprised myself when I signed up.

I went to work with my father for a few years, and I also learned the ropes by visiting the Nike missile sites in the area. I gave haircuts to the guys stationed at the sites. My father’s shop wasn’t really big enough to support two barbers, so I left in 1960 and started my own shop on the corner of Mountain Road and Winn Street, but not the corner where it is now. It was across Mountain Road on the other corner.

I moved in when Tim Santry closed his Calso station to start Winn Street Service across the street. The landlord was Ted Murray, and he reworked the place to be a barber shop. He charged $75 a month. Doesn’t sound like much, but at 50 cents a haircut, it was tough. And I did have some competition from a barber named Ken Frado. But one day, a woman came from the American Legion around two in the morning and smashed right into his shop. She knocked it off the foundation. So much for my competitor.

Ken and outside the ill-fated barber shop in 1958
Ken Frado and mother Flo outside the ill-fated barber shop in 1958. It was located where the parking lot for Sammy’s Deli is now, so it was very close to Winn Street. Too close! Brenda Frado McCluskey photo.

Then came the Beatles. They put lot of barbers out of business entirely. We had to learn different haircuts. I had to go back to school. You do what you have to do.

I was friendly with a guy named Fred Perkins who lived on the opposite corner of Mountain Road. He approached me and asked if I wanted to buy his house for $19,000. While I was thinking about that, one day he collapsed and died right there on the corner of Mountain Road while he was cutting his lawn. He fell behind the shrubs. I found him and called the police. On the day of the funeral, a real estate agent left a flyer at his front door. Well, his son was so mad that someone had the gall to do that, he came across the street and offered the house to me. I bought the property in 1963 and moved my business into that house.

After a few years, I decided to build an office building there. When I told my wife, she said, “Are you crazy? You can barely keep the roof over your head now.” But I said, “Would you like to eat hamburgers and hotdogs your whole life, or eat lobster once in a while?”

That building project was a very interesting chore to take on. I knew nothing about anything. I quit school in the ninth grade, and I had missed a lot of school from illnesses. The first thing the architect asked me was what kind of building I wanted. He told me to look around Burlington and take pictures. Well, we drove around, but I couldn’t find anything I liked. Finally I looked through a construction magazine and found something.

I never hired a lawyer to represent me at the town boards. I represented myself. I had to sell myself first, and it worked. I could talk a good deal. Nobody knew my educational background, but I could talk. That was my biggest asset. So the Planning Board approved my office building. Their only objection was that it seemed too nice for the area.

Then I started the journey to the different banks. They didn’t want to touch me because I was a barber, not a builder. Whether it was luck or whatever it was, Reading Cooperative Bank finally loaned me $75,000. I laughed all the way home. I didn’t have two nickels to rub together and this guy gives me $75,000. I never had to go back.

Jenson Building, Winn Street at Mountain Road
The pillars of Winnmere. This was built in three sections during the mid 1970s to late 1980s and contains up to 30,000 square feet of office space. The name “Jenson Building,” inscribed on the big stone out front, refers to Jen and Sonny Morandi, husband and wife.

I built the building with only subcontractors. I relied on a lot of my customers for expertise. I became a professional brain-picker. It’s amazing how many people are so full of information and want to talk to you. I never did hire a general contractor.

And so I built my pride and joy at 1 Mountain Road. People told me I was crazy for putting that tunnel in the building because I wasted potential office space. But I wanted Winnmere to have a little bit of class. When I grew up, Winnmere was like coming from a different world. It was considered the armpit of Burlington. You didn’t even drink the water there. I wanted this building to have a positive effect on the whole neighborhood, and it did. Other businesses started making improvements.

It’s unique. It’s different from every other building in Burlington. And it’s a landmark. People refer to it when they’re giving directions. “When you see the stone building, take a right.”

I had it in my hands to do something nice for the Winnmere section, and I did. That’s my contribution. I’ve been offered more land to build buildings after I built mine, offered so many deals. I can’t do it. I like my barbering too much. I like my customers.

Sometimes they’re a little crazy. One Saturday afternoon around closing time, a young guy came in, agitated. He was at another barber shop and asked for a flat top but got a crewcut instead, so he basically had no hair. He was supposed to get married the next day. He pointed to his head and asked us, “Can’t you guys straighten this out?”


 

Four generations of Morandi
Four generations of Morandi. That’s Joe as a baby. He’s now on the town’s select board, formerly known as selectmen. His hairdo has barely changed.
Sonny Morandi cutting a friend's hair at sea
Sonny Morandi cutting a friend’s hair at sea.
Sonny (left) and Joe Morandi with kills
Sonny (left) and Joe Morandi with clients. The shop is decorated with them.
Sonny Morandi skydiving
Sonny Morandi skydiving.
Barber Association 1960
Barber Association, 1960: Angelo Morandi, John Faria aka “Jon the Barber,” Jerry Cagnina, Frank Ross, Sonny Morandi, Charles McGovern, Mayor John Gilgun, John Mahoney, Rocky DiPietro and Al Coakley.
Morandi's barber lineup
Morandi’s lineup, 1981: Joe Morandi (left), John Gorrasi, Ron Redford, Sonny Morandi.
Morandi's Barber Shop, 1 Mountain Road, Burlington MA
Morandi’s Barber Shop, 1 Mountain Road, Burlington MA.

20 thoughts on “R.I.P. Sonny Morandi Leave a comment

  1. What a great story, thanks for sharing. When did Carbone’s change its name? One day when I was older, I realized it was called Winn Street Superette (I think), but I called it Carbone’s for another 20 years or so, and don’t ever remember when the name actually changed? It’s still Carbone’s to me.

  2. Thank you for sharing this story about our Dad. He took pride in everything he did. He would be so happy to see this article printed. Our hearts are broken and we miss him terribly. This brought some joy to my heart. Thank you again — Cheryl Morandi ❤️

  3. Wow . . . Got a lot of history here. Thank you. I grew up on the “other side of town” on Bedford St so didn’t know a lot about the Winnmere section. I got a chuckle from the photo of Ken Frado, though. I got my first haircut from him when I was about three, just before his shop was damaged. RIP Sonny, you truly shaped the future of Burlington!

  4. I was 5 or 6 years old . Sonny was trying to cut my hair as I squirmed. I was just a real pain in his ass on a busy Saturday. My mom was apologizing for my behavior. Sonny gave her a wink. Reached in a drawer and pulled out a small box you would put a ring in for your girlfriend. Laying in a cotton background was a fake bloody ear. I have not moved in a barber chair since. I just loved the man. God speed.

  5. What an amazing story of an amazing guy. Sonny had a warm and welcoming personality. His infectious smile will be missed greatly. Thank you for posting this story. It paints a beautiful picture of a hardworking family man doing everything possible to better his working life, conditions, and investment while maintaining his most important role… cherished husband and dad. He loved to tell stories and he was great at it. The laughs….
    God blesss you Sonny!

  6. When we moved to Burlington in 1960 my Mom took me and my younger brother to Morandi’s for haircuts. Not sure why we ended up there since we lived on the other side of town near the cemetary on Bedford St. Soon began to enjoy our trips to Morandi’s and stayed with them until one of our neighbors started cutting hair out of her house. Sonny and the rest made us feel like we were part of the family. RIP Sonny, you definitely impacted my life in a positive way.

  7. Grew up behind the Open Bible Church. And got a few haircuts there myself. Remember the bloody ear myself. Hope you’re doing well Jerry!
    RIP Sonny.

  8. It’s nice to know how he touched so many people, you’re kind words are a blessing. Reminding everyone how truly amazing he was. He is a legend & always will be

  9. A wonderful story by a wonderful man! Those of you that are family members – you truly hit the jackpot! Although I never had my hair cut there 🙂 my siblings did (when my Dad was not butchering them… lol). Many times, I took my nephews there – years later I took my son. Sonny always had a smile and was an absolute sweetheart. God Speed Sonny!!

    Carbone’s – I also refused to call it anything but. Until it moved…then it became Winn Street Superette.

  10. Me & my brothers always went to Morandi’s. Boys regular for all of them he would say . Great family .

  11. Oh those were the days ! I grew up in the Winnmere section of town I loved it, Carbones store, sledding Glen Ave etc. I miss the folks and all of those great memeories

  12. WOW. Thank you for this wonderful post. I grew up on Sheridan St. in the’60s and I remember this area and Morandi’s barbershop, the old one! SO MUCH has changed since those days, this area and our country.

    Best Wishes to the Morandi family.

  13. A great story for a great man!
    So many memories for your family!
    I miss my father sooo much! Your family was so lucky to have him!❤️❤️❤️❤️

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