Ulster BOCES means different things to different people. For Vincent “Chenzo” Caci, a 2015 graduate of the former Barbering for New York State Licensing program at the Ulster BOCES Adult Career Education Center and completer of the Career & Technical Center’s High School Equivalency program, it meant setting him in the right direction to become the owner of a successful business.
“Before BOCES, I was really on a rocky road of life,” says Chenzo. “I was working dead-end jobs and going nowhere.”
After dropping out of the New Paltz Central School District in Grade 10, Chenzo earned his High School Equivalency diploma in 2005 through the Ulster BOCES Career & Technical Center. He then also enrolled in automotive classes at BOCES, but never finished, remaining what he calls a “rambunctious youth” who got in with the “wrong crowd.”
Like many a happy ending, the tide began to turn when Chenzo met a young woman. “She was a great person and I knew I wanted to be more like her,” he says.” Lucky for Chenzo, she took a chance on a guy who was a little “rough around the edges,” and the two were married in 2012.
Chenzo then began planning for a better future, and entered the Ulster BOCES barbering class in 2014. Today he owns and runs a very successful barbershop with an unexpected twist. Clients at his shop, Caci Barbershop & Reptilium, have an unusual view while in the chair—namely a “reptilium” of snakes and lizards!
For Chenzo, this blend is completely logical. He always loved animals, particularly snakes–and inspired by his older brother, he’s been cutting hair since age 15. “Once I picked up a pair of clippers, I never really stopped,” he remembers.
His reptilium story began in his basement. Though Chenzo’s parents initially vetoed the idea, he finally convinced them to allow him to build a “breeding room,” where he successfully bred and sold over 100 snakes.
While this was happening, Chenzo was busy working a full-time job and learning barbering at BOCES, a rigorous schedule he says he was able to maintain because he was “driven to learn and succeed.”
“BOCES changed my life,” he says, “I had looked at other career programs elsewhere before choosing this one, and now I know it was meant to be.”
His instructor created a relaxed atmosphere where students practiced by cutting each other’s hair. “It was a fun place where we learned to support and help each other out,” he says. “When I would help another student, I could see them getting inspired. That would rejuvenate my own passion for cutting hair.”
The barbering class also proved to be a fertile ground for Chenzo to make valuable connections. After graduation, Cory Smith, a friend and classmate from Ulster BOCES, opened “Smitty’s” in Connecticut and asked Chenzo to help him out with the burgeoning new business on weekends.
At the time, Chenzo was working a full-time job he disliked, while breeding and selling snakes and cutting hair out of his home. He and his wife were also busy raising their young son. Despite being busy, he made the trip to Connecticut one Saturday, and afterwards, put in his two-weeks notice at his undesirable job.
“We were slammed with clients at Smitty’s,” he says. “I loved it. I knew I wanted to keep cutting hair there.”
Chenzo continued maintaining a busy schedule, commuting the long distance to Connecticut three days a week, and cutting hair four days a week at his house. His home-business was located in the breeding room, which was now down to four snakes. He then noticed something very important. The snakes were a big conversation piece. His clients enjoyed being around them and learning about them during their appointments.
Chenzo always knew he wanted to run his own business, and the idea to combine these two passions in his own shop felt perfect. Though the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown halted the thriving business at Smitty’s, Chenzo used the time to take the crucial mental break he needed to plan his next move.
Later that year, in October 2020, “Caci’s Barbershop and Reptilium” opened its doors at its Route 9W, Highland location. A mere 10 minutes from his home, the location allows Chenzo the freedom to spend more time at home with his family, which has grown to two boys. Friends, family, and Chenzo himself fully renovated the busy shop that clients—and reptiles—enjoy today. Animal enthusiasts, kids, and anyone who likes new experiences flock to the shop, where they can view lizards and snakes in glass terraria. Chenzo hopes to eventually expand to a larger location, hire employees, and perhaps include a more “hands-on” opportunity with the animals.
Check out some of Chenzo’s pets and cool cuts on Facebook at https://bit.ly/3C2teaN or Instagram at @cacibarbershopandreptilium.