On Barbershops

All men know: There’s nothing in the world like a good shave. A good shave is like a fresh start. It’s the best start to your day, and it makes you feel like a million bucks.

Unfortunately for me, I hate shaving; my first love is for barbers. But a good barber is hard to find. In fact these days, any barber is hard to find. They’re like the dodo: we’ve seen them in Warner Brothers cartoons, but more likely than not, we don’t have one in our neighbourhood. I got curious this morning, so I went looking a bit and asked some questions.

Turns out, barbers had a huge drop in business because of the rise of HIV. In Canada, it’s the law for them to change their blades for every customer, so their costs increased along with that. I suspect this led to more barbers turning into hair salons, where profits were higher, especially when there’s customers galore. After all, people will never stop needing their hair cut.

Another factor is the increase in regulation, with them needing more complex licenses instead of the usual barbers’ ones. In Austin, Texas, where I lived for a while, a hairdresser needed to display their cosmetology license at all times while they were working, and there were random checks like at traffic lights. It seems absurd.

It’s likely the rise of the Gillette Generation had a lot to do with it too. It’s just cheaper and more convenient to do it at home, I’m guessing, and most people have no idea how great a good shave is. To me, it’s the ultimate luxury: the hot towel, the ability to just relax and let it happen. I think it makes me feel like a mob boss.

feb 19 2005 036_2.jpg

I got so desperate for a barber that I went to this place yesterday that once gave me a mullet by accident in 2005. This happened when he asked if I wanted the sideburns, which were long at the time. When I said no, he chopped them off from the top of the ear. I wore a hat for 2 months after that. But even he had stopped doing shaves– maybe I should be grateful.

Anyway, do you guys have barbershops in your towns? I know there’s one downtown here in Montreal, but I can’t think of any others. Maybe where I grew up in the suburbs, too, but I think they need a resurgence.

I’m hoping that the tough economy will lead barbershops back into it, trying to get business any way they can. Maybe it’ll happen. We’re going to need a bit of luxury in our lives.





17 responses to “On Barbershops”

  1. Dan Waldron Avatar

    I’ve been reading along for a while now. I just wanted to drop you a comment to say keep up the good work.

  2. Perry McDowell Avatar

    Here in Monterey, I go to an old, Italian guy who learned to cut hair on Sicily in the 1950’s before coming to the US. I have a beard, so I don’t get a full shave, but he uses a straight razor around the ears, on the back of the neck, and below the beard. It feels great.

    One other reason that barbers will say for giving up the straight razor is that modern clippers can give just as close a shave, but I don’t believe it.

    One other thought: isn’t it time to remove from the books the laws passed when HIV was new and we didn’t know anything about it? HIV cannot be passed via razors, yet the stupid law remains.

  3. C.C. Chapman Avatar

    Made me laugh to find this in my feed reader today as I tweeted earlier today about the barbershop.


    Growing up we never went out to get our hair cut because my Grandmother cut hair for a living. I vividly remember when I graduated college and moved out of New England I had to go a Barbershop.

    Funny thing was I sat down and said, “I have no idea what to say. I’ve never had to tell anyone how to cut my hair.”

    Since then I’ve always gone to a barbershop. We have two in our town now and this morning Dylan and I went to our preferred one. The owner knows us both by name and sometimes Dylan will sweep the floor while we wait.

    Barbershops are awesome. Can’t say it any more simple then that.

  4. Chris Brogan... Avatar

    For the first 30 years of my life, I went to Duke’s Rotary Barbershop as much as I could, even though it was in Augusta, Maine. It was where my Gramps had his hair cut from the time he was probably 30 until into his 80s. It’s where my Dad had his hair cut most of his life. It’s where my little brother and I got cuts for more years than not.

    I now am at the mercy of whoever has time. You’ll cringe, but I swing into Supercuts now and again. And it shows. : (

    Some day.

  5. Bill Deys Avatar

    We have one that I know of in London. It’s run by a surprisingly young middle eastern guy and it’s all his friends. It’s awesome!

    They are so old school, I think that comes from the middle east! I’m not an expert though.

    They do offer straight razor shaves although I’ve never done it, though about it more then once though. They do use them to touch up around the hair line and they use the hot shave cream for that too! They’re not much more expensive then any other place and they are worth so much more!

  6. Edward Ocamo-Gooding Avatar
    Edward Ocamo-Gooding

    In Montreal, I visit a barber named Zacharias, on Patricia and Sherbrooke.

  7. Rob McDougall Avatar

    I go to the same barber’s my Dad did – and have done from the age of… 6?

    My brother asked him if he could get a shave there, the guy said he had to stop offering it because of lack of demand – he was out of practice! D’oh!

  8. fendergurl Avatar

    Barbershops are a great cultural ‘hub’ as well.

    They are a place where all the latest news is exchanged, gossip and business transactions might even happen.

    The simplicity of that which you speak (and covet) is what makes it so wonderful. Life’s simple pleasures. Often over-looked, in our rush to make things happen so quickly. Very unlikely that you would pull the iphone out and check your messages during the shaving ritual. This is a good moment preserved.

    Being taken care of meticulously is everyone’s dream. Thanks for sharing the dream… 🙂


  9. Michael Seaton Avatar

    I used to go to the barbershop and had a similar accidental mullet experience while I was in University, scared me for life.

    I loved the ritual of going to the barbershop for a shave – mostly on the weekend right before or after a greasy hangover fixing breakfast with friends. Ah, the memories.

    There is still a nice little barbershop in the Forest Hill Village in Toronto – and I believe they are still shaving away there.

  10. Dave Jaffer Avatar
    Dave Jaffer

    I still go for shaves, Julien. Two or three times a year. Just to feel awesome. I would suggest going to either:

    The Lebanese barbershop (whose name escapes me) on Bleury, just south of Sherbrooke. El Darsa? I think it’s called El Darsa. The guy who owns it, Tofi, is a good guy, and delivers the goods.


    MANN Montreal. Less a traditional spot and more of a metrosexual spot, the shave is still great. And the stuff they put on your face afterward is composed, I think, of plutonium, as your entire body feels refreshed.

  11. Dave Delaney Avatar

    One of my worst jobs I’ve had was working on an assembly line in Edinburgh, Scotland. The warehouse was in a business park which lacked any shops, restaurants and certainly barbershops.

    One day I had stepped outside during a break and noticed a line up of men to the back of a cube truck. I approached to investigate why the men were standing there.

    To my delight I discovered a full blown, old school, barber shop inside. The full-walled mirrors, cheesy black & white head shots, the pump action rising swivel chair, and of course the barber. He even had the candy cane spiral light!

    That my friend, was one wise business man.


    PS: I have three more haircuts before my next one is free. That will you give you an idea of the joint I go to here in Nashville.

  12. Julien Avatar

    You guys are making me drool over here.

  13. DYKC?â„¢ Avatar

    I hit NuImage Barbershop, in Cambridge.



    …if I don’t make an appointment, my barber calls to ask me what the problem is.

    …he’s been cutting my hair in several different styles since 1999 — bald fade, temp taper, Afro and a cut I call ‘The Transparency’. Plus, he lines, shaves, and trims my face and hairline with a straight razor. By hand. Old school. Well worth the $100/mo I lay down at the shop.

    …we also have a Black Phantom Gourmet hustle going on in Boston! The conversations over good food with my barber is just as on-point as when I am in the chair.


  14. anji bee Avatar

    god jules, you have the prettiest eyes!!!

  15. Brett Avatar

    if you’re looking for a great shave and are in Toronto, check out the Terminal Barber Shop. It’s right at the corner of Bay and Dundas…Old school all the way.

  16. kwolfe Avatar

    There are quite a few barbershops in the college town I live in, including one that opened up just a couple of years ago by two brothers in their late twenties. And most of them do straight razor shaves, too.

    I think around here it might be a military influence with an Air Force base so close and an Army base about an hour away.

  17. Lucio Avatar

    I live in the Texas Panhandle in a small town without a barbershop, the last 1 closed 10yrs ago, & I have to drive 45 miles to Kansas to get a hair cut from a barber, but they don’t do straight razor shaves. I recently found my new favorite barber in Dumas Texas, 75 miles away. All of his haircuts are $12 & shaves are $12, its called Demon Barbershop. I never had a haircut from a stylist until I was 16 & that was because my barber went on a hunting trip. I got my usual Flat Top,big mistake, it was lop-sided. I wore a hat until my barber returned, i went into the shop & before i could sit down my barber asked,”who screwed up your hair?” I told him about the stylist in the big city, Amarillo Texas, he told me to take a seat & he’d fix it. He ran the clippers over my head & 20 seconds all my hair was gone. He didn’t charge me because he said, “I hope you learned your lesson.” I am now planning to go to Texas Barber College in Houston this year & become a barber & offer the good old fashioned barber service like: haircut w/ complimentry staight razor neck shave & neck massage, straight razor shaves, shoeshines, & good conversation(free of course), all at a reasonable price.

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