Issue 97

Cover Story, Bruno Altobelli owner of Upper Cut Barber Shop, pg. 8. Story by Jenn McMullan and photos by Trevor Booth.

Upper Cut Barber Shop A Cut Above The Rest

“I’ve had guys cry while getting their hair cut, exposing a side of them that a family member might not ever see. That one half hour a month he gets to vent, scream, cry, say something to his barber that his wife might not even know because of the comfortability. I’m a priest, a friend, a therapist and in some cases a family member to my clientele base.”

Before you sit in his chair Bruno Altobelli has one message for you, “wipe your f*@#$*# feet before you come in.” No, you’re not about to be executed. You’re about to sit in a chair with a lot of tradition behind it and a ceiling TV with rotating images of half naked women. Altobelli, owner of Upper Cut Barber Shop since June of 2006, said this is not your Grandfather’s barber shop.

He’s carried some of the traditional aspects such as a men only clientele, forty year old original barber chairs and the basic tools. What’s different is the integration of modern technologies. The shop looks like a grown man’s tree house with leather chairs, flat screen TV, with sports and naked women plastered on the walls.
“I’m one of the last places in my opinion where a guy can be a guy,” said Altobelli. “No conversation is typically taboo, I mean I don’t want to hear about a body buried in your backyard, but I let guys have free reign.”

The barber shop environment is nothing new to Altobelli who remembers going with his Dad at the age of five to see Frank the Barber on Erie Street. He said this was back when barbers could hit squirming kids and men read playboys under the cover of less provocative magazines. From there he worked at Salon’s throughout  high school and graduation, eventually becoming part owner of The Barber’s Chair. Altobelli said he never aspired to owning his own shop until much later, he just knew he didn’t want to work at one of the cookie cutter places. After about five years as partner he branched off on his own and opened Upper Cut Barber Shop on Howard Avenue.

Altobelli, who joked he’s the only Italian who can’t build anything, said what he loves about the profession is the sense of self it can give to a man.

“Women can wear beautiful dresses, purses, diamond earring’s, bracelets, we’re limited, and I think a good hair cut is vital. Men are no different, we may not project it as much…but we do care. We’ve cared more in the past ten, fifteen years then we have in a very long time. To me a good hair cut, a good pair of shoes, a nice watch defines the man. Regardless of the profession, you could be working on the line at Chrysler or walking down the halls as a VP somewhere, you will reflect how you care about yourself in your hair cut.”

“I like making someone feel good by changing their appearance, the colour, the length, the style, the cut. I think the key thing is, I specialize to the best of my ability, in giving a guy the hair cut suitable for him. It’s not the kind of shop that you’re getting your nine dollar hair cut. It’s a half hour service and I take pride in being consistent in my work, if the hair cut turns out bad I’ll fix it.”

Altobelli, whose goal is to find a cut for his client that’s in style and fits their personality, said he only has two non-negotiable rules.

“You’ll never get a comb over by me,” he said. “In fact if you ever start to get one you’re going to get your head buzzed and I won’t let you grow a mullet, you’ll have to go somewhere else. Those are very strict rules here.”

Joking around with his clients is an everyday part of the job for Altobelli, who was a stand up comic for roughly nine years. Winning Windsor’s Funniest New Comic in the early nineties, sitting in his chair is probably similar to getting a hair cut from George Carlin. He said he believes it’s his no-bullshit authentic personality that allows his clients to relax in his shop.

“When you walk in that door and the fifteen feet to my chair, if I can’t make you smile or laugh then I haven’t done my job.

The expletive sign that says wipe your feet, that’s there for my clientele base to look at, laugh, and go that’s Bruno. I was having a crappy day until I walked through his door.”

“We laugh more than anything in here,” said Altobelli. “For the 30 minutes that these gentlemen are in here they may want to say everything they’ve wanted to say for the past two months. Or they might just sit down, shut up and watch TV. I allow them to do or say anything they feel like doing for the thirty minutes they’re here.”

“I’ve had guys cry while getting their hair cut, exposing a side of them that a family member might not ever see. That one half hour a month he gets to vent, scream, cry, say something to his barber that his wife might not even know because of the comfortability. I’m a priest, a friend, a therapist and in some cases a family member to my clientele base.”

Altobelli, said he’s one of the few places, if not the only in Windsor, that doesn’t take walk in’s and is referral only. His clients are people he knows and people who know him, which he attributes to the comfort and closeness that exists in his barber shop.

“Guys, we’re not complicated species but we can be just as talkative and emotional as women. We just don’t want to show it and I like to provide that environment here whenever possible. There’s no diploma on the wall but you’d be surprised that because of the amount of people I see come and go, who have taught me about life, I’m able to reciprocate.”

Altobelli said one of the biggest lessons he’s learned in life was from the passing of his son. Gaven was born with cerebral palsy and passed away at the age of ten.

“He was an incredible little boy, the suffering, the sadness, it is what it is and we deal with it the way we have to, there’s no booklet on it. Having him in my life was the greatest gift. I will never love anything the way I loved my son, I never will. Gaven grounded me, I don’t think anything could happen to me to equal the kind of pain we suffered when he passed away. I don’t want to lose my job, I don’t want to get sick, I don’t want any of those things in my life or anyone I care about. The overwhelming pain of your child dying in your arms, I mean nothings going to hit me that way ever again. I’m not a hard ass, I’m an individual who suffered the worse thing they could suffer, and anything else, I’m probably going to be prepared for.”

“There’s nothing more devastating then the loss of a child. So if your grandfather dies, your father passes away, it’s sad and it’s painful, but I can help them get over it. [Help them] express themselves, or cry in my chair, because I can say to them listen it can be worse.”

“We all have some secret, or skeleton, or demon,” he said. “I don’t care who you are, male or female, the environment where you can be yourself is important to a man and a woman.”

Altobelli said although he will always have a darkness with him, his job and the open communication the chair evokes makes him a lucky man.

“I’m lucky because you might walk up and down the street and ask fifty people, I’ll probably be the only one or two that love their job. The [clients] who have known me for so long, we reciprocate the joking and mistreatment of each other. They see the place and they realize it’s a barber shop, it may not be your grandfather’s barber shop, but it’s a barber shop. I’m very proud of the barber shop I have and very proud of boasting I’ve got the best clientele in the city. You can pull up in a Ferrari and you can pull up in a Ford focus, I’m going to treat you like shit evenly across the board, and that’s what the clientele I have is most comfortable with.”

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