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Lather up!; Modern-day barbers revive the hot-towel shaves and pampering of yesteryear

Men don't usually go to barber shops to be pampered.

Village Cut & Shave, an old-school shop with a modern sensibility at 611 Elmwood Ave., wants to change that notion with hot-towel shaves and other amenities.

"We want it to be a place where men can come in and spoil themselves, whether a shave and a facial, or a groom package when guys are getting married -- a place where guys can have their little moment in the sun," said Brian Freeman, the shop's co-owner.

Freeman opened Village Cut & Shave -- marked by a striped barber pole outside -- with Brandon Martinez in November. They, and fellow barbers Chuck Zambito and Dhamon Quale, are all graduates of Shear Ego International School of Hair Design in Rochester, Western and Central New York's lone barber school, which teaches classic barber shop techniques.

They're rare -- but not alone. Several other haircutters offer old-fashioned shaves. Among them is Chopafellaz Unisex Salon, which has two shops on the East Side.

"I have a clientele that are older businessmen, and that's what they're used to," said owner Jason Maclin.

"They want to get pampered, and we take care of them," he said.

He said men used to just coming in for a haircut are finding it takes longer if they want a shave and facial, but worth the wait.

"A lot of folks have that microwave mentality. If they have an hour to spare, we can take care of them," Maclin said.

Joe Corto, a barber with Seasons Salon and Spa in the Village of Hamburg, said he's seen more demand in recent years.

"It kind of died out back in the '70s, and it's back again. People want the luxury of sitting back, getting their face steamed while relaxing," Corto said.

Dan Conaway, at Chez Ann Salon and Day Spa in Williamsville and in Buffalo, learned hot-towel shaves at the American Barber Institute in New York City. He switched to barbering after discovering in cosmetology school that he was allergic to hair coloring for women.

"A shave is just a luxury for men," said Conaway, who uses "five or six towels" during his half-hour shaves, with a cold towel at the end to close the pores.

Most barbers, like Vince Paladino, who learned how to give shaves early in his career, and has cut hair at Avenue Hair Parlour in Amherst since 1968, don't do them.

"I've been in the business for more than 40 years, and I haven't done a hot-towel shave in that time," he said.

Inside the Village Cut & Shave, with its gold and teal-colored walls, sleek, red-and-black leather chairs rest on a new wood floor. There are two waiting areas, including a tucked-away "man cave" lounge where customers can use WiFi, Playstation 3, read from a stack of magazines or watch one of the shop's three TVs typically showing ESPN -- or children's programming if requested.

"We just wanted to do it real classy but still keep that barber tradition," Zambito said.

"We attract all types of clientele, and that was real important to us. You can feel that you can bring your kids in here."

That tradition is represented with black-and-white photographs of early barber shops on one wall, opposite a team photo of the Sabres.

On a recent day, Freeman gave Fred Zogaria a haircut and shave.

He began by applying heated Lather King shave cream on Zogaria, who was in a reclining position. A steam-heated white towel was spread over the cream and across Zogaria's face. The sequence was repeated twice more over the next several minutes, opening the pores and softening hair follicles for Freeman to remove with a straight-edge razor.

To close the pores, Freeman draped Zogaria's face in a cold towel tinged with lemon eucalyptus.

"It's a pleasure," said Zogaria, speaking under a towel spread across his face. "It's awesome. I feel like I'm getting pampered."

Soothing facial massage treatments, which Zambito said are requested by about half the customers who get shaves, use almond massage cream and more cold towels. After aftershave, the experience is capped with powdered talc and a splash of witch hazel.

Scalp massage treatments involving the temple, sides and back of the head and neck are also available.

The tools of the trade are visible at the barbers' work stations. Clippers for trimming and tapering hang on the wall. Combs sit in jars of blue fungicide and disinfectant, near a spray bottle for sanitizing scissors. There are machines that release the hot lather at the press of a button, and yellow air compressor hoses, above the chairs, for blowing stray hairs off the customer and the chair after the cut is over. Two steamers keep the towels hot.

"The shaves are a great opportunity to do more than just cut someone's hair," said Maria Fustiano, who teaches barbering to 16 students at the Rochester barbering school. "Years ago that's what the traditional men's barber shop was like, and there seems to be more of a need to get back into that."

Standard hair cuts at Village Cut & Shave are $17 and shaves are $13, with combination packages provided, including the facial and scalp massages.

Village Cut & Shave's Freeman, 28, a married father of three, always wanted to be a barber.

"I've been going to barber shops since I was a kid with my father, and I always liked the atmosphere of the barber shop. It's kind of one of those things that I just knew I wanted to do."

Freeman, from North Buffalo, got his hair cut when he was a kid at Carmen's Barber Shop on Hertel Avenue, which became Johnny's Barber Shop. He got his cosmetology license through the BOCES program at Cardinal O'Hara High School, apprenticing his senior year at Johnny's. He stayed for nine years.

In 2005, Freeman went to barbering school to learn more about his chosen profession.

"I just liked learning the old-school approach to cutting hair. It's a dying art," Freeman said.

Zambito, 26, was 19 when he opened Zambito's on Delaware Avenue in Kenmore after first working at a salon.
He decided not to renew his lease last year. Freeman, a friend, invited him to work at the new shop, and he's glad he did.

"It's been awesome. Probably the best decision I've ever made. I couldn't be happier," Zambito said.

"I went out on Allen [Street] last weekend, and saw maybe a dozen guys I've cut hair for. Everybody's coming here. We opened up in the winter, so I can only imagine what the summer is going to be like."

e-mail: msommer@buffnews.com

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