FAIRFIELD — When Charles Tuozzoli walks through HAIR, his enthusiastic and open energy fills the brightly lit, two-story salon that he’s owned since 1969. In stylish horn-rimmed glasses, a patterned shirt and a necklace chain with a big ring - “to hold my glasses,” he explained - Tuozzoli says hello to each customer and greets everyone with a smile.

Tuozzoli is the heart and soul of HAIR, a Fairfield institution on 39 South Pine Creek Rd. that recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. His influence is clear, affecting everyone from his staff to HAIR’s loyal customers, some of whom he’s been serving all of those 50 years. The salon sees 700 to 800 clients a week, and this year they’re on track to reach 39,000 visits. Throughout 50 years of business, Tuozzoli has led with confidence, creativity and, above all, compassion.

Emphasis on employees

Creating the best learning and working environment for his more than 40 staff members has always been Tuozzoli’s top priority. Many of them have been with the salon for decades - some over 40 years. Over time, HAIR has evolved into somewhat of a family business, with Tuozzoli’s brother and cousins poised to take over operations when he retires.

Every HAIR employee is welcomed into this family. In addition to becoming part of the community of hairdressers, new hires also go through specialized training. Tuozzoli believes that this education program both guarantees quality service and ensures that the business will continue to grow for years to come.

And grow that business has. Fifty years later, customers are still pouring in, but Tuozzoli says that teaching the next generation of hair stylists has always been more important to him than making a profit. It is exactly this emphasis on his employees that has allowed his business to boom.

“My goal was to teach people in our industry and be the best that we can be, and by doing that it helped us stay vital,” he explained of his success.

HAIR’s influence has spread throughout Connecticut and beyond, as over the years Tuozzoli’s protegees have moved away or started their own business. Alumni came from as far as New Mexico and California to celebrate HAIR’s 50th anniversary on May 19, giving Tuozzoli the chance to see the impact that his training has made on employees’ lives.

“It was one of the best days of my life,” Tuozzoli reminisced of the celebration, where he heard about the career strides made by hairdressers he trained right out of beauty school.

Fight for gender equality

Nowadays, anybody can walk into HAIR, or another salon in Connecticut, and get a stylized haircut. What most don’t know is that this is only the case because of Charles Tuozzoli’s advocacy for gender equality in salons.

In 1974, it was illegal for salons to cut men’s hair. Men, who were expected to have short, un-styled hair, were only permitted to patronize barber shops. When Tuozzoli opened his shop in the late 1960s, however, more and more men were beginning to seek out salon cuts. Many had started growing their hair long, and barbers had no idea how to handle fad styles such as the shag cut.

Eager to serve these patrons, Tuozzoli would secretly cut men’s hair upstairs in the salon. While he loved this work, it was always clouded by the fear of losing his license, or even being arrested, if he were to get caught.

After a few years of frustration, Tuozzoli’s lawyer had an idea: sue the state to change the law. That’s exactly what he did, and his legal victory changed the face of Connecticut’s beauty industry. Now, men and women can both get their hair cut wherever they please.

“The reason why men can go into salons now is because of me,” Tuozzoli explained proudly.

Looking good, feeling good

From the 1974 lawsuit to now, Tuozzoli has sought out opportunities to serve any and all customers. At the root of this pursuit lies his belief that a haircut is more than just a superficial change - it can affect a person’s inner life, too.

“If people look good, they feel good,” Tuozzoli often reminds his staff.

For Tuozzoli, making someone feel good is no small feat. He believes that his work has truly changed lives, and watching a customer walk out of HAIR with a smile on their face brings him immense satisfaction. Making people happy, he holds, is the ultimate job of a hairdresser.

And he doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

“[I’ll work] as long as I have people who want to sit in my chair,” he said, “It’s my passion.”

He has, though, reduced his hours as time has gone on, and he’s started the process of passing the business on to his brother and cousin. When asked what he imagines for the salon down the line, Tuozzoli smiled and said that he has complete faith in the next generation of HAIR’s leadership.

“I think it’ll be around for another 50 years,” he predicted.

rscharf@hearstmediact.com