If you had the opportunity to work with your father, follow in his footsteps — and live next door to him to boot — could you do it?
Some could, some couldn’t, and some would cherish the opportunity.
After all, not everyone’s father is around anymore or has a father living nearby to share that experience with.
Giuseppe Lazzara, best known as Papa Joe, and his son, Joe, relish taking advantage of that chance inside Papa Joe’s Video Cuts at 2018 N. Arizona Ave., a six-chair barbershop that serves as a beacon for at least three generations of customers in a sparsely-filled shopping plaza on the northwest corner of North Arizona Avenue and Warner Road in Chandler.
For slightly more than a quarter of a century, the Italian-born Giuseppe and his son have worked side by side — in a harmonious manner conversing with customers amid the sounds of snipping scissors and whirring hair trimmers in their barber shop. The father and son also are next-door neighbors in Chandler, where the Lazzara family has lived since 1985 after moving from the south side of Chicago where Giuseppe used to own Mr. Joseph’s Hairstyling Studio.
However, the father and son never have really taken the time to celebrate the occasion of their silver anniversary of working together, which they admit they should have done two years ago. However, next week, they’re going to take a whack at marking the milestone as Father’s Day nears and let the hair fall where it may.
So what is Papa Joe doing as the Father’s Day holiday nears?
He’s getting the word out that from Thursday, June 14 to Saturday, June 16, he and his son will give customers their trademark neck shaves and signature old-school razor haircuts free of charge.
And that’s not all. Lazzara also is helping out another cause: at 1 p.m. Friday, June 15, and 11 a.m., Saturday, June 16, the barber shop is hosting a book signing for Basha High School teacher Bill Snyder, who is releasing a book, “The Eight-Fingered Criminal’s Son,” a collection of humorous short stories of Snyder growing up in southern California in the 1970s. Books will be given to the first 20 customers at no charge.
“We want to help out,” the barrel-chested Lazzara said in his deliberate Italian accent. “We hope we get a lot of people in here for the Father’s Day weekend. We’re closed on Sunday. That day, I’ll spend time with my wife (Nancy of 49 years), my four children and my three grandchildren. We will enjoy the day.”
After all, it can’t be all work and no play for the father and son hair-cutting duo.
“It’s been good,” said Joe Lazzara, 45, who earned his barber’s license in 1986 when he began working for his father. He first worked as his dad’s assistant in the mid-1980s, videotaping children getting their first haircut, a right of passage through the years in a place where boys can be boys and men can be men while talking sports and solving the problems of the world. They no longer videotape a child’s first haircut, but let customers rely on holding on to the memory of the experience in a pop-and-son shop.
“I just like it,” Joe said of working with his father. “Working indoors is nice. You can meet people every day. We have a lot of customers who have been coming in for a long time. We give the customers whatever they want. It’s all about the customers, but it’s been good working with my dad, too. It was either that or learn a trade.”
The younger Lazzara admitted that working with Papa Joe in the beginning wasn’t easy, describing his father as a “hands-on” boss who wanted him to learn the hair-cutting trade his way.
To which the father said of his son-turned-seasoned-barber, “We’re buddy-buddy now. At first, when he started working, he sided with the other employees of how they wanted to do things. But now, he realizes that help will come and go, but we’ll always be together. Now, he realizes his father was right.”
After all, the senior Lazzara must be doing something right as he nears 60 years in the hair-cutting business.
Giuseppe Lazzara estimates he has done more than 300,000 haircuts since he first started cutting hair as a young teenager in Sicily in 1954, mostly because he remains his own best promoter. Through the years, Lazzara has given special deals to those serving in the military, has shaved American flags into the sides of the heads of the patriotic (even in red, white and blue), and has carved the logos of Arizona’s sports teams into the scalps of others.
And a few years ago when the economy started to tank, Papa Joe garnered national attention when he offered free haircuts to the unemployed to help them look more presentable for job interviews.
The walls of his shop are crowded with layers of pictures of longtime customers and famous people he has met through the years and framed newspaper stories from major newspapers including USA Today and the New York Times chronicling his notoriety.
When I went into the shop on Wednesday to interview father and son, Papa Joe emerged from a back room resembling more of a baker than a barber. But the pair of scissors, barber pole and barber chair stitched on his blue shirt, were evidence of his trade that his father, Angelo, urged him to continue after the family immigrated from Sicily to Chicago in 1958.
What was good enough for the father in that case, was not good enough for the son. Lazzara’s father worked in the blast furnace at the Chicago Works of U.S. Steel and told Giuseppe, “I don’t want you to do what I’m doing, son. You can do better. I want you to be a barber. You won’t get rich, but you won’t starve to death.”
In Papa Joe’s, what is good enough for the father, is working out for the son.
With a twinkle in his eye as if he were priding himself on the baked goods and pastries inside a display case, Lazzara knows he — and his son have stood the test of time as surviving as a small, independent barber shop. And that’s a sweet smell of success itself.
Papa Joe said he doesn’t plan to retire any time soon.
“This gives me activity,” he said. “This keeps me young. I like the challenge. It always makes me want to do more, and makes me wonder: What am I going to do next?”
Looking around the walls of his shop and seeing him and his son working side-by-side, one would think that Papa Joe has gotten to do it all.
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