King of cutting: Chicago Ridge barber closes in on 50 years in business
BY STEVE METSCH firstname.lastname@example.org February 26, 2014 1:15AM
Frank Russo, who has been in business for 50 years. cuts the hair of George Schick Sr. at Russo's barber shop in Chicago Ridge. | Steve Metsch~Sun-Times Media
Frank Russo has no idea how many haircuts he’s given since he opened his business. But he does know he’s never had to give a refund.
Russo, 71, will celebrate 50 years in the business on June 4. That’s five decades at the same location, the corner of a strip mall at 10341 Southwest Highway in Chicago Ridge.
Russo owns the strip mall now, and his Frank’s Hair Styling Corner is still packing them in. A recent Wednesday afternoon saw six customers stroll in for haircuts in one hour. Russo and barber Frank Procenti, who has been with Russo for 17 years, were kept busy cutting hair and chatting with customers.
It was just another day in the life for Russo, who paused between haircuts to discuss his livelihood.
“Actually, I’ve cut hair for 58 years. I started cutting hair when I was 13. As a kid, you do what you think you want to do and you’re stuck with it. I really do enjoy it. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have done it for so long,” Russo said.
He and wife Connie married two days after he opened the barber shop. He took a few days off for a honeymoon to Niagara Falls. He and Connie live in Palos Park, raised two daughters and have five grandchildren.
Although he’s near retirement age, “surprisingly enough, we get a lot of younger people,” Russo said.
“We do all kinds of styles. We went through many generations. When I came to this country in 1958, hair was short, crew cuts, flat tops. Then in the ’60s, The Beatles came in and the long hair. Then short, then medium. Now they’ve got them long, short, all kinds of styles. It’s nice. I don’t want to get stuck doing one type of haircut. What keeps me working is the challenge,” Russo said.
Russo has endured health problems such as the removal of a cancerous kidney and a quadruple heart bypass. But it’s been two decades since his last health scare and he’s feeling fit these days. He has no plans to hang up his scissors “as long as my back and legs are fine,” he said.
“I have no reason to leave because of these people. I’m very comfortable here in Chicago Ridge,” Russo said.
As if on cue, Joe Quarello, 23, of Burbank, walked in the door.
“I’ve been coming here a while. He gives good haircuts. Fifty years? That’s a long time,” Quarello said before settling down in one of three chairs.
Russo isn’t sure if he’ll have any special events planned for his 50th. Asked if he’ll roll back prices to 1964, he smiled.
“It was $1.25 or a buck-fifty, something like that,” he said.
Haircuts now cost $17, still a bargain when compared with some places.
The barber shop isn’t fancy, other than the newer high-def flat-screen TV hanging from a wall for customers to watch. A long mirror is on the opposite wall.
Procenti, of Summit, cuts the hair of Paul Landry, the deputy police chief in Chicago Ridge, who stopped by during his lunch.
“I’ve been coming here for 20 years. The camaraderie and good service keep me coming back. Frank’s a good guy and he teaches me Italian, too,” Landry said.
Russo, Procenti said, “is great to work for.”
“I do my own thing. He doesn’t bother me as long as I slice and dice the right way,” Procenti, 60, said. “I was going to get out of the business. I was going to be a paramedic, and he said, ‘Why don’t you come work for me?’ Everybody loves coming here. I don’t know what it is. Other guys have asked me to work for them.”
As a barber, one must keep on top of things, Russo said. That’s another reason he’s still at it.
“I’m still learning today. Not one hair is the same texture. Some of the hair, you think you’ve got it under control and all of a sudden, you’ve got hair sticking out here or there. The flat top is the most challenging because you’ve got to be perfect and you can’t afford to make a mistake. It’s not easy. You’ve got to be steady,” Russo said. “You can’t afford to make a mistake with those.”
He benefited from longer hair styles because “I was the only younger barber (in the area) and the old guys didn’t want to deal with the long hair,” he said.
“Once you had a system, it wasn’t hard at all,” said Russo, who came to America when he was 15.
He’s from the town of Rende in the province of Cosenza in Italy. A map of Cosenza hangs in the barber shop’s back room near a soccer ball. He used to coach soccer. A poster of the 2006 World Cup champion soccer team from Italy hangs in the barber shop near a sign that says “cash only.”
George Schick Sr., 83, of Palos Hills, can be counted among the happy regulars.
“I’ve been coming here for 15 years,” he said. “It’s the best haircut in the world. Frank is quick and thorough and does it exactly the way I want.”