King’s Kuts marks half-century snipping in Skokie
Mickey Natale and his daughter Liz spend their days laughing and cutting hair at King's Kuts barber shop, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
NAME: King’s Kuts barber shop
MILESTONE: 50 years in business
ADDRESS: 3558 Dempster St., Skokie
CELEBRATION: 7 p.m. Oct. 6.
ACTIVITIES: Food, drink, auto show and more.
Updated: November 5, 2012 6:18AM
SKOKIE — The TV comparisons are inevitable — Floyd’s Barbershop on “The Andy Griffith Show” being the most obvious with a sprinkling of “Cheers,” where everybody knows your name, thrown in for good measure.
Whether you’re a TV aficionado or not, King’s Kuts on the east end of Dempster Street is the definitive “throwback” in the best sense of the word, a barbershop that couldn’t be more distant from the impersonal chains cropping up all over the place in the modern era.
King’s Kuts this weekend will celebrate its 50th anniversary, and patrons — some of whom have been coming here as long as the joint has been open — will tell you it retains the same look and feel of its earliest days.
“I used to work in Evanston and go to the Orrignton Hotel once in a while to get a haircut,” said Al Stefani, 85, who lived in Des Plaines at the time.
Stefani decided to try a place closer to home — Elmer’s Barbershop in Park Ridge — and there he met barbers Mickey Natale and his brother, Ken.
Natale at the time was serving his apprenticeship as a barber, but as soon as he fulfilled a mandatory 27 months doing that, the siblings bought the space at 3558 Dempster St. That was in 1962, a year before Kennedy was assassinated, six years before “2001: A Space Odyssey” was released, less than a year after Barack Obama was born.
“I went to get a haircut one day like I usually did and he was gone,” Stefani recalled while Mickey snipped away at his hair. “I said, ‘Where are they at?’ They said, ‘Skokie’ so I came over here and have been coming over here ever since.”
Stefani is the oldest customer of Mickey Natale’s; he’s enjoyed 52 years of cuts by the same barber and they have grown older together.
“I never liked to go from barbershop to barbershop,” Stefani said. “When you go to the same barbershop, you don’t have to tell them how you want your hair cut. After 50 years, if they don’t know by then, they’re in trouble.”
But it isn’t just the quality haircuts that make King’s Kuts a rare treasure among area businesses. A visit to the cozy barbershop and it’s a time warp of sorts; these are not just customers getting their hair fine-tuned by Mickey and his daughter, Liz Natale. They are friends who have a shared history well beyond the employee-client relationship.
“People used to ask me if I would be embarrassed if they compared my shop to Floyd’s and Mayberry,” said Mickey Natale, 73. “I said no, that was a happy place and people went there and socialized and that’s just what this is.”
“I’ve always said we have these Mayberry moments in Skokie where everyone knows everyone,” added Liz, who has been working with her father for 30 years.
The comparison to Mayberry’s well-known barbershop is an easy one to make. King’s Cuts brims with life — customers socializing at every opportunity, shared memories being passed back and forth, people catching up with other people.
“Since I’ve been 3 years old, I’ve never had someone else cut my hair other than Mickey,” said Neal Mosak, 53. “We just go way back.”
Mosak is part of a three-generation family that has gone to King’s Kuts. His father, 91, still has his hair cut by Mickey, and his son, DJ, 11, goes there as well. His wife, Ellen, has her hair styled and cut by Liz.
“It’s like family here,” Ellen said. “Everybody is family. You come in and it’s always so welcoming.”
That sure sounds like Floyd’s place, but Floyd himself never came to work the way Mickey Natale does.
Sitting outside his shop was a spiffy 1962 red Corvette in immaculate condition, one of a couple of antique vehicles Mickey owns. He bought the car in 1966 for $2,100 — only a few years after the shop opened. Stefani said he remembered the day Mickey bought it.
“I’m sure you do remember,” Mickey said.
Mickey and Liz have had car shows and anniversary and birthday parties at their business, which is more like a second home. Their biggest party yet is for their customers on Oct. 6. The 50th anniversary party will have food and drink, a car show and a plethora of memories. Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen proclaimed Oct. 6 King’s Kuts Day in the village.
The subjects of that party admit they never would have become barbers if it wasn’t for Mickey’s brother, Ken, who started cutting hair in Sicily when he was only 9. Both Mickey and Liz went to the barber school that Ken started once he came to this country. A photo of the two brothers when they first opened King’s Kuts sits over the screen of a non-working TV perched in the corner.
Mickey Natale said he originally wanted to work outdoors — maybe as a truck driver — until he decided to try barber school, which his brother was offering for half-price.
“I liked it and I never looked back,” he said. “I’m a people person and this job was well suited for me.”
Liz knew she wanted to go into the family business since being a teenager. At 16, she went to her uncle’s barber school and by 18 she was working in his and her father’s shop.
‘It’s been a good 30 years for me,” she said.
And it’s been a good 50 years for King’s Kuts. For its 50th anniversary, the shop is currently adorned with old photos as well as early relics including a sheet of original union prices for a haircut. A men’s haircut was $2 when the shop first opened; it’s now $19, which is still a good bargain.
Mickey has no plans to retire, he said — even if he notices changes in the kind of barbershops that exist today.
“Everything is different,” Mickey said. “We’re not the norm anymore. Let’s put it his way: You definitely don’t see shops like ours opening up today. We’ve become very rare.”