Foltos' Tonsorial Parlor is no ordinary barbershop: it's also a performance space, a news publisher, and the anchor of one small Illinois town.
BATAVIA, ILL. If this is indeed the "city of energy," as its chamber of commerce proclaims, then Foltos' Tonsorial Parlor is something like the generator, with proprietor Craig Foltos turning the crank. "Haircuts" doesn't even begin to do justice to the role that the man and his barbershop play in this community of 24,000.
Foltos is "the cheerleader of Batavia," says chamber of commerce director Karen Hollenbeck. "He's the central anchor of Batavia. He knows everybody, and everybody knows him," agrees local doctor John Kefer, a regular.
At monthly "open mike" nights, scores of residents gather at the shop to do what they will: recite poetry, perform comedy, sing karaoke. An additional 1,500 townsfolk keep abreast of shop news through Foltos' Tonsorial Tales, a quarterly newsletter filled with customer profiles, recipes, and even musical recommendations. (" Silent Night by Enya, Mannheim Steamroller, Stevie Nicks, Aaron Neville, the Temptations -- it just can't get much better!" reads one entry.)
CUT UP: At Craig Foltos's "Chop Around the Clock" fund-raiser on May 31, the shop owner (pictured with a razor) cut hair alfresco for 30 consecutive hours. Hundreds turned out.
Foltos was 11 when his father opened the current shop, in 1963. "I was the chief floor sweeper every weekend," he recalls. When his father died, in 1976, he took over. Since then Foltos has made a habit of tinkering with the parlor's physical appearance -- anything from changing the photographs on the wall to the font of the letters on the window. Six fluorescent lights, painted pink to look "like salmon swimming up a river," hang at different heights from a tin ceiling. The front window displays a giant head sporting sunglasses and a flattop made of purple foam.
But for all the physical changes, Foltos has preserved the shop's ambience, which is heavy on laughter and storytelling. "Craig remembers the days when downtown Batavia had tons of street characters, veterans who'd wander in and talk to his dad and swap stories," says mayor Jeff Schielke, a sixth-generation resident. "The parlor was always the welcome wayfaring station on the street, where people could moan and groan about baseball teams and TV shows. Craig has maintained that."
Offering customers a sense that their town has real roots is Foltos's favorite aspect of his job -- especially as Batavia has morphed into a bedroom community. In the 1970s most residents worked nearby. Since then the population has doubled, and most townspeople commute to Chicago. "It used to be a small town, but now it's become a suburb," says Foltos. Not that he laments the town's evolution. At bottom he's a mix of barber, businessman, and artist, a man adept at adapting to new styles to keep up with changing times.