THE BLESSED BARBER
The voices of SportsCenter mix with the whirring of buzzers at Rockabilly Barbers North in Huntington where, for eight years, Katie Pope, 30, has used children, teens and middle-aged men as her personal canvas, trimming beards, cutting hair and mastering her craft. Sporting a festive fedora and holiday-themed earrings during an interview, Pope (“like the guy with the hat,” she says) got her start after offering a free haircut to a homeless man who sneaked two $1 coins onto her workstation and mysteriously disappeared. The coins, tucked away in a jewelry box, serve as a heartwarming reminder of generosity from a man who didn’t have “a penny to his name,” she says. For her, cutting hair can be cathartic. She takes joy in lifting a person’s spirit with clippers and a razor—baptizing them with powder and rubbing alcohol. “I have a great feeling knowing he left the barber shop feeling better about himself,” she says of the homeless man.
188 New York Ave., Huntington. 631-673-1750. www.rockabillybarbers.com
HIS FATHER’S SON
It’s a few minutes before 8:30 a.m. and Joseph Mazzeo is already in his Sea Cliff barber shop soaking in 19th Century classical music as a cold wind climbs over the hills of the idyllic North Shore village. Mazzeo took over his father’s shop after he passed away in 1980 and transformed the place into an antique barber shop with modest charm. His father’s death instilled in him respect for the fragility and fleeting preciousness of life, so he decided to cut his own work week to four days. “You only have so many heartbeats,” he says. Now 70, Mazzeo works—and lives—at his own pace, collecting items given by customers and friends and proudly hanging them on the wall. Mazzeo treats all his patrons the same, and that includes Academy Award-winning actress Natalie Portman, who wandered in one day in search of a mohawk. He came close to selling his small shop seven years ago, but decided to hold on. “It didn’t work out,” he says of the sale, “and I’m happy.”
272 Sea Cliff Ave., Sea Cliff. 516-676-9770.
THE STYLE ARTIST
It was a simple, yet easily answerable question posed 14 years ago to James Kiley: Would he want to flip burgers at McDonald’s or learn to style hair at a salon? The Wantagh resident considers himself an artist (even though he jokingly says he can’t draw a stick figure), and jumped on the opportunity. Now 29 and a hair stylist at Beautiful People Salon in Merrick, Kiley’s living his dream. For him, styling hair is very much an art—a client will come to him with an idea, he’ll consult, and then stylist and customer will find a happy medium. Kiley cares deeply about his work. “My biggest concern for any client I have is the integrity of the hair and making sure I don’t damage or ‘F’ it up,” he says. Judging by the amount of clients he shapes per day (15 when it’s busy), he’s doing all right. “I grew up in the field,” he says. “At 15 I ended up with a career.”
145 Merrick Avenue North, Merrick. 516-341-0276.
HAIRCUTS FOR HEROES
Zoia Wilhelm admits that her thick Ukrainian accent has hindered her along the way since she landed in New York two decades ago. But that’s okay—the 52-year-old Glen Head resident lets her hands to the talking. For three days a week Wilhelm blissfully occupies the barber shop at the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center, treating her hero patients from several wars to warm shaves and well-earned haircuts. “Life is so beautiful,” she says. Wilhelm is proud of her work and believes a higher power has played a role in shaping her own life. “I believe in God, and I think it’s maybe my path here to help people,” she says. Despite the misfortunes these brave American soldiers may have weathered, she says they are thankful for all she does. Her job isn’t about the money, she says, her customer’s appreciation is her reward. “I work to make people feel better. I love to do this.”
79 Middleville Rd., Northport. 631-261-4440. www.northport.va.gov.