Homeless pay for haircuts with hugs in Conn. town

(CBS News) HARTFORD, Conn. - Bushnell Park in Hartford, Connecticut, has all the typical city park sights, all the typical city park sounds.

But there's one sight, one sound, one story here that is truly unique.

"OK, Willie, here we go," said Joe Cymerys.

Every Wednesday afternoon, 82-year-old Joe Cymerys sets up a folding chair in the shade of an old oak tree, hooks his clippers to a car battery and begins preening his exclusive clientele, Connecticut's homeless.

"You haven't had a haircut in a long time, Willie," said Cymerys. "You're going to be all set for the summer."

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"Joe the barber," as he's known here, is actually Joe the retired real estate investor.

Joe Cymerys cuts homeless people's hair for free.
CBS

25 years ago he simply saw the need and decided to take scissors into his own hands. He's been their barber ever since.

"When I do a job on them, they get the whole works. If they've got a dry scalp they get their scalp massaged and then they get slopped up with $30 bottle of Estee Lauder moisturizing aftershave, I don't have anymore of that," said Cymerys.

This is full service

"Then they get a hug. Well, they give me a hug, that's what it is," said Cymerys.

The hug is actually the payment; the only payment Joe requires.

"A savior as always, Joe," said Salvatore, one of Joe's regulars.

One of his client's thanks Joe Cymerys.
CBS

Salvatore is one of his regulars. "Joe, stay as nice as you are."

"He shows a lot of love for everyone who comes here," said Salvatore, about Joe. "He's like a grandparent almost to all of us."

Everyone echoes that same sentiment.

"He's like family, like a father," said Terry Ealy.

"They're my family. They really are my family," said Cymerys.

That sincerity means the world to his customers.

These guys are so used to being avoided, the fact that someone just touches them; really touches them.

The fact that someone cares beyond putting a dollar in a coffee cup, is worth a million bucks.

That's what makes Joe's haircuts special; and you don't even need a mirror to see the results.

"I love you," said Willie, to Joe.

"Not as much as I love you," replied Joe.

To contact On the Road, or to send us a story idea, e-mail us.
  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.

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