Carbondale Barber School opens for business.
With nearly 50 years experience as a barber, city native Mike Caporali is trying to help revive what he calls "a dying art" with his Carbondale Barber School, located at 53 Salem Avenue.
Mike started out as a barber in 1964, after graduating from Ben Franklin High School, and eventually took over his dad's barber shop in Carbondale.
In 1990, he passed the barber teaching exam and became licensed as an instructor. He then spent several years as a barbering teacher at SCI Waymart before retiring.
Three years ago, though, he was brought out of retirement by what he saw as a very disturbing trend. It started with people stopping him in town to ask if he was planning to reopen his shop and talking to him about the desperate need for barbers.
"At one time, there were 17 barber shops in town — and now there's one," Mike explained.
"Nothing against the stylists, beauticians or cosmetologists, they all do great work," he added, "but we need barbers, too!"
Mike became even more upset when the Veterans Vocational Rehabilitation Training Program, which had been approved by state and federal education agencies, was abruptly cancelled. When he asked why, he was told that "the barber program was not a viable trade anymore."
"I guess they think that barbers can't support families or pay taxes," he noted. "Well, I've been cutting hair for nearly 50 years, raised five children, helped put four of them through college and paid my fair share of taxes."
As a patriotic American, Mike was especially vexed to see how veterans were being affected by such changes. He said there is funding for them to go to college, but not to learn a trade such as barbering. And as he noted, "not everyone wants to be a brain surgeon."
"Some just want to learn a trade like barbering, plumbing, carpentry, painting, and so on, but they're not able to and that's a shame," he stated. "Trades are what this country was built on!"
"These are people who risked their lives for us in serving our country, then they come home and can't find work," he lamented.
Mike wanted to do something about it, so he decided to use his skills and experience to start a barber school. And the response has been tremendous, both in terms of students as well as career opportunities afforded them.
"I started out with one student," he recounted.
By last November, he graduated his first class of eight students — and found every one of them a job. Now he has seven more students taking the nine-month course, with jobs waiting for them as well.
"I'm getting calls for barbers from up and down the Valley," Mike offered, "from Wilkes-Barre to Honesdale."
Furthermore, Carbondale Barber School is the only institution in Northeastern Pennsylvania approved by the Commonwealth to administer state board exams, which are offered every three months.
Mike said his barber school will provide a valuable service to the community while training its students and giving them a trade that will last a lifetime.
"The barber school will help the area by giving low-income people, senior citizens and nursing home residents haircuts and barber services for a small fee," he stated, "and at the same time we are giving people a profession."
Haircuts are offered at the school for just a $5 donation, so he said the community at large benefits as well.
That's what Mike calls "an all-win situation."
For more information on the school, visit the website at carbondalebarberschool.net or call (570) 282-1003.