Jim Wasniewski is a soft-spoken man with a kind demeanor. The 71-year-old who has lived in The Oaks, an assisted living facility in Oak Park, for the last eight years suffers from Parkinson’s disease, which he says makes it difficult to accomplish little things like getting to the store or going out to get a haircut.

That’s where David Kelm comes in.

Kelm has been visiting Wasniewski once every five weeks or so for over a year to cut his hair. Wasniewski is one of a handful of about 50 of Kelm’s clients who have limited mobility. Wasniewski said he’s not just a client out of convenience, though.

“I used to go to the five-dollar haircut place, but I wasn’t satisfied with them,” he said.

Doing hair is nothing new for Kelm, 71, an Oak Parker who started his career in the late 1960s at Bramson’s, a high-end women’s department store on Lake Street. His only form of advertising these days is a sign on the side of his car that reads “cuts@yourplace” with an image of a pair of scissors and a phone number. 

“I use the ‘at’ sign because it’s cute,” Kelm said, adding that it is not an email address or a link to a website.

Kelm said he gets most of his clients the old-fashioned way – word of mouth. Others, however, have been loyal clients for decades.

“They’ve watched as I got married, had kids, got divorced, took a gay lover and watched him die,” Kelm revealed, recalling the decades he worked as a beautician and hair salon owner around Oak Park.

Doris M. Gruskin, 97, said she first met Kelm at Branson’s and has followed him wherever he’s moved. 

“When he cuts your hair he does it properly,” she said in a recent telephone interview. She said Kelm’s been visiting her at home for about four years now. 

“It’s great,” she said, noting that a friend from Highland Park visits her about once a month and the both get their hair done.

She described Kelm as a “very intelligent person,” adding “you can have a nice conversation with him.”

“He knows all our family history, so we kind of have a repartee that we can talk,” Gruskin said. “He saw my family grow up and I his, and he’s a grandparent now.”

Gruskin said she’d travel to wherever Kelm was located, but admitted she doesn’t drive as much these days. 

“It’s the epitome of convenience,” she said.

Kelm said he’s owned three different salons in Oak Park and River Forest over the years. He sold his last brick-and-mortar location, Profiles in River Forest, in 1992. He was there for seven years.

He went back to school and earned a business degree from Concordia University after getting out of the hair-styling business in the early ’90s, but, “As it worked out, no one was hiring people in their 50s,” he said, adding that he spent a few years in real estate and a few more in health insurance, among others. 

“It took me 10 years to learn that I’m not a salesman,” Kelm joked.

That’s when he decided to return to his passion for cutting hair.

Starting his mobile business in the late 1990s has been part of his own semi-retirement, he said. He said the work is not quite full-time and gives him the flexibility to control his own schedule.

“Standing eight to 10 hours a day [at a salon] is difficult,” he said. “This way I’m able to extend [my career] well past retirement age.”

Kelm travels outside the area, too, noting that he gives haircuts to a group of women in Evanston every month and half. Other clients are in Elgin, he said. One client who lives in Elmhurst is confined to a wheelchair. Kelm said he gives her a perm about every three or four months.

Kelm said he plans to continue giving haircuts into the future and doesn’t worry about advertising or new customers. Every time one drops off another pops up, he said.

 “I haven’t won the lottery yet,” he joked, adding, “but I don’t buy lottery tickets.”

CONTACT: tim@oakpark.com

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