English barber lives out ‘American dream’
VILLA PARK – The barber shops in England look similar to the ones around here, but the biggest difference is the accents, said Antonio “Tony” Miceli, owner of Tony’s Barber Shop in Villa Park.
Since the 42-year-old British native came to the U.S. 13 years ago, he’s held on to the dream of one day owning his own barbershop. That dream became a reality in December when he bought his shop from the former owner.
He’s been working at Tony’s three years, after previously working at a shop in Elmhurst.
“It was my dream to own my own shop ever since I came here,” said Miceli, of Elmhurst. “I wanted to live the American dream. I always had an ambition to come here. I’m fascinated with the States.”
Originally from the town of Ipswich in the United Kingdom, Miceli moved to America to get a fresh start. His decision to leave home was met with a blend of excitement and skepticism from family and friends, but he lived with relatives in Addison, worked at a local salon, and just a few months after coming here, met the woman who later became his wife.
“The first year was tough. If it wasn’t for her, I probably would have gone back,” he said.
His decision to become a barber came after he was laid off from his job as a stone mason during a recession. He was still living in England and noticed a long line of people waiting when he went to the barber to get a haircut.
“I thought, ‘Well, he’s doing all right,” Miceli said. “Whether there’s a recession or not, people need haircuts. If you’re good at it, you can be anywhere with scissors and a comb and make a living.”
So, he enrolled in school to become a stylist and was trained to do hair for men and women. His first job in the U.S. was at a salon, but after he developed an allergy to the chemicals used to color hair, he decided to exclusively cut men’s hair.
And he’s since found his niche in a barbershop.
The people who come in for haircuts vary in age. There are little kids who come in with their parents for first haircuts; there are 90-year-old men and everyone in between.
It’s a friendly and relaxed atmosphere, where many of the customers know each other and where friendly conversation and banter runs throughout the day, although Miceli said he tries to steer discussion away from the topics of religion and politics.
“I enjoy the conversation,” he said. “I really love the work.”
In keeping with a traditional barbershop, he has a red-, white- and blue-striped pole outside the front door. This spring, he’ll decorate the unpainted fire hydrant along Villa Avenue to match the pole.
Keeping with his original training as a stylist, Miceli said he stays up-to-date on some of the trendier hairstyles so that he can cut hair for the younger clientele who come in wanting faux hawks or other designs.
He has a pretty strong following of customers throughout the western suburbs and has plans to continue working as a barber for the next 20 to 30 years.
With that in mind, Miceli still hopes to get back to England every now and then to visit family. The last time he traveled home was about three years ago, but his family overseas remains supportive.
“They’re ecstatic that I’m the barbershop owner because it was always my dream,” Miceli said. “(I have) the American dream to be a business owner, to have it run the way I want it and to be my own boss.”