Business is business. People are people.
Sometimes the two meet, intertwine, get mixed up, and after the dust settles, everyone – and everything – is better for it. And that pretty much sums up the story of Andrew DiSimone, owner of HairPlaceNYC, which will be celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2017.
Andrew had been in the hair business for over a decade (and we’ll get to how he got there later, but know this: It includes broken fingers) when he started dabbling in hair replacement for men. It was a business decision, first and foremost. “I saw an article in the New York Times about how Baby Boomers were a prime target for male hair replacement,” Andrew said.
OK. Business is business.
Then Andrew also got into working with women who were losing their hair due to medical reasons. This is roughly 2005, 2006, back when the Internet still had a Wild West quality to it. Andrew, in an effort to get his name out there, would flood Craigslist with advertisements. And that’s when Julia entered his life.
Julia was 6, and she had lost her hair. Her mother emailed Andrew with her story. “I read the email and it just … really, there’s no words,” Andrew said. “Without hesitation – this was 2 o’clock on a Sunday afternoon – I responded and said, ‘Momma, whatever you want, the store is on me.”
Long story short, Julia and her parents came in, Julia was very particular with what she wanted – horrifying her parents – but Andrew told them it was OK. And by the end of the day, Julia had her hand-tied, human hair, top-quality wig. Along with the biggest smile Andrew had ever seen. He hasn’t been the same since.
People are people.
“I realized quickly it’s not important to make every sale,” Andrew said. “It’s more important to make every sale happy.” And for over a decade now with the hair replacement side of his business, that’s exactly what he’s been doing. “I won’t take someone’s money unless they are 100 percent happy,” Andrew said. “People who come to me spend a lot of money to go unnoticed in their daily lives.”
And when Andrew isn’t at HairPlaceNYC, he can be found on 32nd Street at the American Cancer Society, where he dedicates his Thursdays to charity, cutting and styling wigs for women with cancer. “About eight years ago I realized I needed to give back,” Andrew said. “So every day I come in from Long Island and get off the Long Island Railroad and I walk down 32nd Street. I passed this big building, the Epic, and I see the American Cancer Society plaque. So I went in to see if they needed help with the wig program and the guy who ran patient services said, “Where the hell did you come from? The woman who did fittings quit last week!’”
And just like that, Andrew started volunteering.
“As long as there is breath in my lungs I will continue to volunteer and do whatever I can to help people,” he said. But believe it or not, there was a time when the only help Andrew would give people came in the form of sturdy doorframes.
“I come from a very traditional Italian working family,” he said. “All carpenters, plumbers, things of that nature. And so at 17, I entered the family construction business. And not only would I be freezing my butt off half the year, I also had a girlfriend who worked in a salon. She was making more money than me, driving a nicer car than me, dressed nicer than me and was doing it without all the broken fingers I’d get.”
So Andrew made his decision: He was going to beauty school.
“My parents had a heart attack,” he said. The pushback was so strong from his family, Andrew decided to forgo his plans. Back to the family business he went. “It took me another 10 years and a tragedy – a girlfriend passed away – to make me realize life’s too short and I had to pursue my dreams,” he said. “So I quit the family construction business, moved into Manhattan with a buddy, slept in a bunk bed in a studio on Charles Street and I started building my clientele one by one.” He mastered the art of cutting hair, mastered the art of coloring. One thing led to another, and he bought his first business in 1997.
And he hasn’t left since.
Going forward, Andrew hopes his new line of wig care products – Wig Whisperer – becomes the gold standard for the industry, and he hopes to continue to help as many people as he can.
“Not only do I get the satisfaction of helping someone and get to play the hero, but it’s also become my livelihood,” Andrew said. “Taken all together, it’s made me realize every day is truly a blessing.”