Tony Ciprani sits in a black leather salon chair, in front of his younger, bespectacled, cartoon likeness on the storefront window. “That’s when I used to have hair,” he says. The caricature has thick black locks; Ciprani has close-cropped hair and a salt-and-pepper beard.
He points to the tattoos on the cartoon’s arms, then rolls up his sleeves to reveal his own – one for his father, one for a friend who died of breast cancer, one for his favourite hairdressing student.
Inked on the fingers of his right hand are a tiny pair of scissors, a comb, a razor and a barber’s pole.
“I’ve always cut hair,” he says. “It’s in my blood.”
Ciprani opened The Shed, a hair salon on Second Avenue, in May. He was born in Italy, grew up in Williams Lake, B.C., and Vancouver and moved to Whitehorse nine years ago.
Another tattoo, on his shoulder, of a spider web and black widow, represents the journey Ciprani has taken to get here, from the serious disease he nearly died from to a successful double-lung transplant.
The widow signifies living again, he says.
Ciprani is someone you feel comfortable around right away. He’s gregarious, chatting a mile a minute, with no filter, making jokes and swearing.
The name may be unassuming, but inside, The Shed is cool, with wood floors, rustic wood walls, shelves of Italian hair products and a vintage cash register. Azealia Banks and Beyonce songs play over the sound of traffic rushing along Second.
Ciprani has always wanted his own salon. He grew up curling his sister’s hair. “She would say, ‘Listen. You’re my brother and I don’t have a sister, so this is your job,’” he says.
He graduated high school in Williams Lake and got a job at the local mill. He wasn’t interested in further education.
“I wanted to smoke pot and party. What else do you do? You work at the mill, you make some money, you party, you buy a case of beer.
“Back then, you really didn’t want to admit you were going to be a hairdresser. I wasn’t out yet. It was hard for me to say, yeah, I want to cut hair.”
His parents weren’t about to let him party away his youth. They bought him a ticket to Italy. He went to hair school, and when he came back to Canada after the year-long program, he worked at a salon in Williams Lake. Then he moved to Vancouver and opened his own.
When Ciprani met his would-be partner, Yukoner Carson Schiffkorn, who runs the Inn on the Lake, he moved north with him. Out at their home on Marsh Lake, Ciprani cut hair, his clients driving out from the city to see him.
Then Ciprani got sick. He loved cycling, and when he started feeling weak and short of breath, he knew something was wrong.
Ciprani was diagnosed with histiocytosis X, a lung disease that caused secondary pulmonary hypertension – pressure to his heart. With the lungs under stress, incapable of breathing properly, the heart enlarges. Eventually, that can lead to a heart attack.
He travelled to Vancouver regularly for appointments. Things worsened so much that he needed oxygen tanks. He’d try to push himself and not rely on them. “It’s denial,” he says. “You’re just in denial.”
When Ciprani went to the grocery store, if he couldn’t find a parking spot right up front, he’d drive away.
“When you’re not healthy, you have to plan an escape route,” he says. “You’ve got to know where everything is in the grocery store, because you’ve only the energy to go up to that produce, get it, get to the line and figure out areas where you can stop and breathe where everybody’s not seeing you. I wouldn’t walk in with my oxygen tank. I was embarrassed of that.”
Ciprani was put on the lung-transplant list, knowing that what could save him may come within a day or a year. In March 2012, he and Schiffkorn were driving back from a medical appointment in Vancouver. Ciprani wasn’t allowed to fly anymore – his body couldn’t handle it.
They blew a tire outside of Watson Lake, and checked into a local hotel.
“I was thinking, this is not where I want to die,” Ciprani says. “This can’t happen.”
He’d been given a pager that was supposed to go off when a pair of lungs became available, but it didn’t work in Watson Lake.
Schiffkorn was at the gas station in town when the attendant held up the phone and said, “The call is for you.”
Unable to reach him, doctors had contacted Schiffkorn’s sister in California, who had contacted Ciprani and Schiffkorn’s mothers. They called the Inn on the Lake, and an employee called the Watson Lake gas station.
Ciprani was at the hotel when Schiffkorn returned.
“I’ve got two things to tell you,” he cried. “I got a set of tires and you got your lungs!”
The transplant was a success. That was four years ago. Ciprani says he feels like he’s 21 again. He bikes and doesn’t get winded.
“We could go for a hike and I could go up that mountain – I’d probably be a little sluggish right now because I ate a bunch of nachos yesterday – but it would be no problem.”
Coming so close to death made Ciprani rethink his life.
“I woke up on March 31, (2012) and I thought, if I die today, what is my legacy going to be? Tony got a double lung transplant and trims bangs?”
He wanted his own salon. He says he didn’t think about the business side of things – competition from other salons in town, or whether he’d be successful.
“I just was creating a place for me,” he says. “I struggled with that. I thought, is this selfish? What are people going to think of me? Just Tony. I thought that was a bit arrogant. But I thought, oh well, it’s my life. I have to do it. I’m very lucky.”
The day he opened, 56 people walked in to check the place out. Open seven days a week, The Shed has been so busy since that Ciprani has hired three employees, including a barber, and plans to hire two more.
He books appointments and accepts walk-ins.
“It honestly blows us away,” Ciprani says. “We high-five each other often in here.”
From the outside, The Shed looks like a barber shop, and Ciprani likes it that way.
“My whole life, I’ve always been judged by the cover, like everybody is. So I wanted the outside to not reflect the inside.”
For more information, visit thehairshed.ca or call 689-7433.
Contact Rhiannon Russell at