What’s driving Kitchissippi’s barbershop boom?

By Joseph Hutt – 

Kitchissippi is a place where small businesses have learned they can thrive through the support of a loyal community, and it’s here that the classic barbershop has seen a revival over the last two years. With the Feb. 1 opening of Westboro Barbers, owned and operated by Fikri Riyata, there are now seven barbershops from Wellington and Sherbrooke to Richmond and Churchill, not including hair salons. In March 2016, an eighth will be opening up just off Wellington, on Somerset West and Spadina.

While the increasing popularity of facial hair does seem to align with the rise of the barber shop—devoted to that Mad Men style of hair care, specializing in beard service and straight razor shaves—Phil Ireland, manager of House of Barons on Wellington, is not so quick to put his faith in facial fads alone. “I think beards came into factor but everything is only cool and in style for so long,” he explains.

“This is where I hope to be cutting hair when I’m eighty-five,” says Devon Hayter, the man behind the chair at The Brooke. “I hope to pass this on to someone else who will keep this as a barber shop.” Photo by Ellen Bond
“This is where I hope to be cutting hair when I’m eighty-five,” says Devon Hayter, the man behind the chair at The Brooke. “I hope to pass this on to someone else who will keep this as a barber shop.” Photo by Ellen Bond

Beards are just another style in the shifting realm of personal taste, a style that he strongly believes barbershops will outlive.

Rather, Phil believes this simply shows that more men are caring about what they look like, to the point where they’re putting that extra effort—and money—into personal grooming.

“We have guys coming in here whose wives are complaining that they spend more money on their beards and products than they do,” says Phil

Gray Winchell, co-owner of The Gray Whale, another Kitchissippi barbershop set to open in March 2016, feels that these shops have also offered their clients the opportunity to learn and expect a new quality of personal care.

“Every time someone sits in my chair, I desire for them to understand the standard that they deserve and can expect,” Gray explains. “If they have a great experience, wherever they go in the world, they’ll always remember that standard [of service] they had.”

Gray Winchell and Zach Ledgerwood get The Gray Whale ready for business at 1098A Somerset West. Photo by Ellen Bond

However, these services are only part of what clients seem to look for. If expert barbers  are all able to give you an impressive hairstyle, it comes down to how well you click with the person who’s hovering around your head with scissors in hand.

It may not seem like a big deal, but in this tech-savvy climate, where 140 characters are often the limit and texting is often easier than talking, choosing to give someone an hour of face-time—and then pay them for it!—can actually be a big investment.

A good barber understands this and treats it as such. It should almost be a “therapeutic” experience, according to Gray.

According to his personal philosophy, Devon Hayter, the man behind the chair at The Brooke, explains,“A barber has to be one part social worker, one part bartender, and one part stylist. It’s that mix, and you have to be a good speaker and you have to be a good listener.”

It comes down to being aware of a client’s needs, to ensure they leave the shop feeling as good as they look. Otherwise, why would they come back?

Of course, some people don’t like to talk, cautions Natalie Facette, manager at The Hair Fellas. “You have to gauge. You can’t just be a bubbly person, because if they’re going to be annoyed, it’s not going to be a good experience for them.”

Despite these exceptions, a social atmosphere is expected, and many of these barbers develop their own ways to build on it.

“I never have the chairs facing the mirror,” says Devon. “I have the chairs facing out because if I have someone in my chair and we’re talking, you’re a part of the conversation too if you’re in the shop.”

It’s this “open” and masculine social connection that Devon and Fikri suggest men are seeking, unique as it is to the barbershop.

“That’s something we want to promote [for our clients], that sense of community,” explains Devon.

Visiting each of these unique shops, listening to these fascinating stories, and hearing the drive behind their words, other aspects behind the barbershop boom become clear as well. Take the current trends in personal grooming, the practical services that every barber offers, and mix that with the promise of increased business through condo development, and you have a scenario that makes running a small business feasible for a group of men and women who are incredibly passionate about their profession. And they have to be passionate.

“We don’t have a pension plan. We don’t have a retirement home for retired barbers,” says Devon. “That’s why you see barbers who are doing this into their old age.”

“You don’t get into barbering to get rich. Who here owns a Ferrari? Or a home?” Phil jokes with his colleagues.

But still, according to Devon: “This is where I hope to be cutting hair when I’m eighty-five. And… I hope to pass this on to someone else who will keep this as a barber shop.”

As they take care of their community, whether on weekends or wedding days, the barbering community feels their community takes care of them as well.

“I take my hat off to the people of this neighbourhood,” says Grey, having known the community through his time at House of Barons. “They are really just some of the most beautiful and receptive people I’ve ever met.”

While this degree of passion may seem purely idealistic, you need only step into one of these shops, take a seat and listen, to know the truth of it.

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