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Mansfield

To some, salon is too racy for town

They say sex used to pitch haircuts

Jessica Watson, manager at the Framingham Knockouts, attends the press-conference. Jessica Watson, manager at the Framingham Knockouts, attends the press-conference. (Globe Staff Photo / Jonathan Wiggs)
By Christine Legere
Globe Correspondent / October 15, 2009

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A chain of sports-themed men’s hair salons, dubbed by some as the “Hooters of Haircutting’’ for its provocatively clad stylists, is stirring up strong sentiments in Mansfield, where it is slated to open its second Massachusetts franchise next month.

Residents protesting the planned opening of a Knockouts: Haircuts for Men salon point to images posted on the firm’s website of its stylists - attractive young women clad in satin shorts and tight shirts with the firm’s name emblazoned across the chest - as a sign the company is using sex to sell haircuts.

The furor has caught Tom Friday, the firm’s founder and chief executive officer, by surprise, he said.

“We have 450 franchises open in 26 states,’’ said Friday. “But this is the first time we’ve had this reaction. I was absolutely shocked.’’

The first Knockouts franchise in Massachusetts opened in Framingham about a year ago. That opening didn’t cause any controversy, and the salon has done well. After Mansfield, Friday said, the company is looking to open franchises in Avon and Braintree.

In Mansfield, some residents, like Barbara Callahan, think the company is trading on sex, thinly disguised by a sports theme. “This establishment is not a family place, and it will only attract men with illicit thoughts, behavior, and actions,’’ Callahan wrote in a recent e-mail to the town’s Board of Selectmen.

In an interview last week, Callahan said people in town were “really fired up over this.’’

“I think they should get the sex out of this. Why not go with the sports theme and don’t have the scantily-clad women?’’ she said.

Carolyn Chiocca also sent selectmen an e-mail to protest the salon, set to open at the Mansfield Marketplace mall. “I would prepare for an uproar in this family-oriented community,’’ she said.

And parent Nancy Kaeser penned an open letter to Mansfield residents, urging them to boycott the mall until Knockouts is forced out.

Another local parent, Jeff Weinstein, grilled Friday during a press conference last week, saying that Facebook profiles put up by individual Knockouts salons are definitely playing up the sex angle.

The company’s website shows pictures and videos of attractive young women catering to men, including a scene in which a man is relaxing with a hot towel on his face while the stylist gently massages his hands. In a television interview featured on the website, the interviewer describes the atmosphere at Knockouts as “testosterone-fueled’’ and Friday characterizes his venture as the “Hootification of haircutting’’ - a reference to the Hooters restaurant chain known for its “Hooters Girls’’ wait staff.

“Mansfield doesn’t want this image in their town,’’ Weinstein told Friday. “And you chose the wrong location - right next to the Friendly’s’’ restaurant at the mall.

But Friday, who opened the first Knockouts in Texas in 2003, said his is “a very professional organization.’’

“We’ve done extremely well,’’ he said in an interview, adding his group is the largest full-service men’s hair salon chain in the country. “We’ve never had a store go out of business.’’

He said the outfits worn by the stylists, whom he calls “Knockout Girls,’’ are “congruent with our theme.’’

While a woman wouldn’t be refused service, Knockouts salons cater to men. The company says its services include haircuts, manicures and pedicures, waxing, and several kinds of massage. Some of the salons also offer hair coloring and hair replacement.

The salons’ interiors are decorated with a boxing motif, with gloves and other paraphernalia on the walls and the styling stations set up in a mock boxing ring. Each hair-cutting station features a flat-screen television with remote control. And customers are treated to a complimentary beverage. In many salons, but not in Mansfield, beer is on the list of selections.

Developer Ken Hecht, who owns the Mansfield Marketplace, calls the furor over Knockouts’ opening in his mall an overreaction.

“I went out to the Framingham Knockouts and got a haircut, and I thought it was great,’’ he said. “There were boxing gloves all over the place and, yes, a woman cuts your hair. But there’s no illicit behavior.’’

Morris Feldman, who with his wife, Linda, will own and operate the franchise for the Mansfield Knockouts, called the new venture a “nice, family-run business.’’

“With this, I get to promote a business that’s a lot of fun,’’ said Morris Feldman, who was previously in computer software development. He said he plans to open for customers on Nov. 14.

Mansfield Selectman George Dentino said he thought the opening has stirred up an unnecessary level of concern. “I have been getting e-mails, a tremendous amount of phone calls, and even text messages on my phone,’’ he said. “I like the fact that people in Mansfield are passionate about things, but I think this is a case of overreacting. I’ve done some research, and this seems like a professional organization.’’

Dentino said he thought someone should put a lighter spin on the subject.

“I’ve got my lawn chair set up out front, just waiting for the doors to open,’’ he joked. “And I’ve booked 14 haircuts in the first week.’’

Christine Legere can be reached at christinelegere@yahoo.com.