When I lived in Northern Virginia, barber shops seemed to be on their way out. I worked for the government in the late 60s, and there was a true barber shop in the basement of our building on Connecticut Avenue. It was as bare bones as you can get. Usually two barbers. Mike, the owner, was much younger than the other barber and seemed to be the favorite for most customers. There were five or six well worn and uncomfortable chairs with a small collection of Playboy-genre magazines to keep your mind busy while you waited. Often there were one or two older men in there, using the place as a social scene, just hanging out and occasionally saying something or other to Mike who was a young man of very few words. He was not into extraneous conversation but did what was necessary to be civil and not discourage these men who would, from time to time, actually get a haircut.
I continued to visit Mike’s barber shop for years after leaving the government but eventually it became too inconvenient. I believe that when that government agency closed around 1985, Mike’s business there ended as well. As is true for so many of the people who play some part in our lives for a while, I have no idea what happened to him.
I ended up going to women’s hair salons for haircuts, a practice that continued, with one interruption, until I left for New York City. The interruption occurred when a friend who was then getting “buzz cuts,” for reasons neither of us could explain, told me how inexpensive his lady barber was. And her shop was just down the street from my office at that time. I went to her three times, I think. The haircuts were no better than fair, but the last two visits she spent the entire time with a phone crooked on her shoulder, cutting my hair and talking loudly to a friend. The thought of what she might inadvertently do to my hair ended our “relationship” and I returned to the much more expensive salon in my office building.
Now to New York City. One of my early questions about moving here was “what is it going to cost to get a haircut in New York City?” And where will I find a salon? Unknown to me at the time, barber shops are plentiful in The City. And they charge half what I was paying the salon in Virginia.
I found one close to our apartment and just walked in. They were not bothered by the fact that I was pretty shaggy by then. The barber was free asked me whether I wanted “scissors or clipper,” a question I had never faced before. In my salon the primary tool was always scissors and I never questioned it. In any case, I am now a regular at Gotham City Barber Shop:
The inside of this classic place looks like this:
Here are some of the tools of the trade, precisely laid out like the instruments a surgeon might use:
The outward presentation of New York’s barber shops is as varied as the population. Here are some examples:
This one is below ground.
Some are located deep inside office buildings like Rockefeller Center or even subway stations:
And some have ingenious, if somewhat mysterious, names:
Just another example of the staggering variety and availability of personal services in the megalopolis.