The early 1990s was a time of limited understanding and medical treatment for AIDS. So when his partner was diagnosed and struggling with devastation of the disease around 1991, stylist Anthony Parisio channeled his skills and courage into creating Cut hair salon, on South 13th Street in Center City. As it turned out, his work there not only supported them both financially, but also opened up unforeseen blessings on the journey.

"I was originally cutting hair a block away [in 1989]," Parisio says. "Life was good — I had a nice home, car, everything I needed. I turned my thoughts to God, and said, 'I'm so grateful, and it's not enough to say it, I want to show it. So tell me what you want me to do. I can feel when you send me in a direction. I really need to put this into action.'"

It was about two months later that he met his partner, Michael James, and two years after that that James was diagnosed with AIDS. One day, amid the roller-coaster ride of the conditions associated with the disease, in which someone could come perilously close to death before pulling back, Parisio saw that the nearby commercial space was available and had the inspiration to begin his own studio there.

"I felt like someone grabbed me and said, 'This is how you're going to take care of him.' I said to God, 'Are you nuts? You want me to open a business when he is sick?' He had no T-cell count. And I got the feeling back: 'This is how you're going to survive it.' So I said, 'I never say no to you. I'll look into it.'"

After doing the research and business prospective, Parisio hit the streets to find a business loan. He met closed doors and went against the odds to patch together the modest sum he needed through credit-card offers and a couple of small personal resources. Miraculously, he was on his way.

Next step: building Cut. It was the winter of 1993-94, a brutal winter full of ice storms that made it about the worst possible time to try to do even interior construction. Still, Parisio persisted, taking care of clients at Cut during the day and working at another salon in the evenings, building out the walls and shelves of Cut and caring for Michael in between. The schedule, as demanding as it was, let Parisio have the flexibility he needed to cover more bases.

Cut opened in February 1994. "Michael came in to help when he could," Parisio remembers. "I would go to the gym, meditate, then get to Cut to work."

The boon that Cut had been for Parisio continued through the ravages of Michael's AIDS. After another of the surgeries James had to undergo, Parisio recalls the moment of bringing him home from the hospital.

"I had a Superman ring on we'd gotten a while back," he says. "The nurse asked me, Are you really Superman? I thought of all the stuff you have to do [with AIDS], you have to find the Superman inside you, and love helps you do that. I told her, 'You have to be.'

"Then I saw the ring and realized that was what she was talking about. At that moment, I realized what all my clients who'd been going through that — for their family, friends, lovers — had had to find that Superman inside."

The demands on both Parisio and his partner continued. The worst part for Parisio was getting false hopes every month about what they thought they could do for Michael. "Protease inhibitors didn't come out till 1995," Parisio remembers. As Michael became less capable, he was able to get more and more help at Cut from friends. Michael died as he and Parisio passed their fifth anniversary.

"The day after his funeral," Parisio says, "I was back at work. As I was closing up. I said, 'I'm grateful you took care of Michael so well. As long as I'm here, I promise, I'm here to help others and make their lives better.'

"That's how Cut came about," he says. "That's what Cut's all about. We've done well for 21 years. Four other businesses have been established from here, from people I trained. It's been a blessing to everyone.

"And it all started because I wanted to show my gratitude."