Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Canal Winchester Renaissance Man Acts, Cooks and Curates

by Josh Spiert

What does a semi-retired part-time actor, part-time chef do with his down time? Mike Ippoliti of Fairfield County decided to use the extra time to take over a 40-year-old barber museum in Canal Winchester—an odd choice, but a rewarding one.

The Ed Jeffers Barber Museum’s roots wind back to 1968 when Canal Winchester native Ed Jeffers started collecting random barber artifacts. In 1978, he opened the actual museum, but did not advertise or attempt to promote it for commercial purposes.

The future of the museum was uncertain when Ed passed away on July 4, 2006. Both the Longaberger Basket Company and the Smithsonian showed interest in buying the artifacts, which could have meant the end of the museum’s residence in Fairfield County.

“Everybody in town knew Ed. He was one of the pillars of the community,” Mike says.

“They were both expressing interest in the museum, especially the Smithsonian,” Mike says. “And I thought, ‘if it goes to the Smithsonian, you might as well kiss it goodbye.’” Five years before Ed died, Mike had sent him a letter of intent stating that he would be interested in running the museum. Since he was retired and had some time on his hands, he decided to step up and help.

This is not simply an assorted set of barbers’ knickknacks. The collection Ed built up over the last 40 years of his life is impressive.

“We have about 71 barber poles, 700 or 800 razors, and 600 or 700 cleaning mugs,” Mike says. “There are even tools that go back to the medieval era when they used to do bloodletting.”

The museum is open by appointment only, and costs $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, and $3 for students. When large groups come through, such as the GOBA bikers, he gives them a special discount as well.

During Mike’s first year as owner, there were only 256 visitors. Since he stepped up efforts to promote awareness of it, however, attendance has risen. Several barber schools around the Midwest take advantage of the rare collection and visit with each incoming class. Mike said there have been visitors from all over the world, including Japan, Australia and England.

Still, the museum isn’t a means of income for Mike. He lives mostly on his acting work. He has appeared in numerous commercials around the country, including everything from the well-known, local Safe Auto Insurance commercials to the California Garage Door Association. He has appeared in many films as well.

“There have been a lot of B movies that you’d see at 3 o’clock in the morning,” Mike says, laughing. He has, however, also played parts in big-budget Hollywood productions like Traffic and Little Man Tate.

Honoring his culinary history, every Wednesday Mike goes to the Italian Club and cooks a meal for its weekly meetings. He has other cooking offers, but turns a lot of them down because he wants to take it easy and the museum is his main priority.

Mike will continue to spread the word about his little museum tucked away in the second story of a downtown Canal Winchester building. The Barbers International Conference is being held in Columbus this spring and they will visit the museum, which should give Mike an attendance boost of about 250. Still, he is always looking for more visitors interested in the barber’s unique history. When planning a trip, however, make sure to call ahead.

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