GOOD NEWS
09/11/2014 02:43 pm ET Updated Nov 07, 2014
AOL BRANDED ENTERTAINMENT FOR STATE FARM

Hartford Man Offers Haircuts In Exchange For Hugs

Aol's BeOn group creates custom editorial content that is sponsored by marketing partners. The sponsoring partners do not exert editorial influence over the content, but may be organically integrated within content in an authentic manner that does not impact editorial integrity.

In some ways, Joe Cymerys is one of the richest men in the world, but his wealth has nothing to do with money. Although he was an accountant for decades, his most successful years have been spent giving homeless men free haircuts in exchange for hugs.

Twenty-six years ago, the Hartford, Conn. resident volunteered with the American Red Cross at a local shelter. Things changed when he crossed paths with a man named Arnold, who sported a long, scruffy beard and disheveled hair. Cymerys offered to "clean him up."

"So the next week I brought my clippers in and I gave Arnold a haircut," he explained. When Cymerys was finished, Arnold asked, “How much do you charge for a haircut?” Cymerys replied, “You only get a hug.” And with that, his business model was born.

The amateur barber soon had a long list of people wanting haircuts. He set up his chair and gave as many as 24 cuts per day, sometimes staying until 2 a.m. “I couldn’t have paid a million dollars to have the experience of what I had at that shelter," he recalled.

Cymerys eventually moved his makeshift barber shop to the YMCA, but when the electricity went off one day, he had to find a new location. His customers directed him across the street to the carousel in Bushnell Park, which is now where he conducts his haircuts-for-hugs exchange.

"On Wednesdays, you’ve got to get down here early," customer Donnie Sheff said. "'Cause if you don’t, that line goes all the way up the street."

There are a host of intangible services that Cymerys offers at his "barber shop," including kindness, support and genuine care. "Joe is inspiring to me," Sheff added. "He’s like a father figure."

The feeling is mutual for Cymerys, who feels his customers are his family. “When you do a good deed for somebody, not only do you feel good, but the person that you do the good deed for, they feel good. And then somebody watching you perform this good deed, they feel good. It’s a three-way street.”

Aol's BeOn group creates custom editorial content that is sponsored by marketing partners. The sponsoring partners do not exert editorial influence over the content, but may be organically integrated within content in an authentic manner that does not impact editorial integrity.

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