Calvin Coolidge was president when a young woman in need of a job opened a small business in her family home at the corner of Chemung Street and Denison Parkway in Corning. Alberta's of Corning had a sophisticated name and a simple purpose: to help the local ladies look their best.
Nearly ninety years later, that business lives on at AJ's on Market Street, a salon offering services for skin, hair, and makeup and featuring a private line of beauty products.
A.J. Fratarcangelo is the current proprietor of his family's legacy business. His Dad came into the business, learning to cut and style hair to hand off to his wife for the fancier services like perms and coloring. A.J. remembers being five years old and being hauled to product shows and finding the whole thing fascinating. He grew up in the shop, watching popular hair styles teased a foot high.
But, he wasn't ready to settle into the family business, and his mother encouraged him to go. "'But first,' she said, 'why don't you work for me for awhile? Save up some money for your relocation.'" A.J. follows this remembrance with the soft laugh of a son who knows his loving mother was setting him up. "I left. I lived in some big cities. I worked in other places. Then I came home."
Home for AJ's—still corporately known as Alberta's of Corning—is a 2,300-square-foot space on Market Street that continues to live by the customer service golden rule. "The client always, always, always comes first." Alberta never cut a corner, never used anything but the best products. The result is legendary loyalty. AJ's still has customers who got their hair styled by his parents (including his former babysitter).
A commitment to the community is also a part of the family's philosophy. Charity fund raising is a way to "be good to the community that has been good to us." The Corning Chamber of Commerce recently recognized A.J. with their Lifetime Achievement award for his dedication to the community.
Ladies may not come in once a week for their trims and styles anymore, and the foot-high teased look went out decades ago, but A.J. says a good haircut is still worth the money. "That's why they call it a 'bad hair day.' When you look bad, you feel bad."
He offers custom products, made in Los Angeles, for his shop. "We have this great stuff called Bump It to give hair a little height. Mom would love it!"