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At Upscale Barbershops, Columbus Men Are Ready To Care About Hair

Gabe Rosenberg
R.J. Trimber gets his hair cut about once a month from barber Garrett Woerndle at Holy Moses in Grandview Heights.

Sitting in one of the half-dozen chairs at Holy Moses in Grandview Heights, R.J. Trimber is getting a trim.

"My hair eight months ago looked nothing like this," he says, as barber Garrett Woerndle makes his way around Trimber with an electric razor.

Woerndle cleans up Trimber's goatee and tapers the hair on the sides of his head. It's a look the barber himself recommended, and Trimber comes here about once a month to keep it up.

A Comprehensive Approach

For years, hair salons have catered to a mostly female clientele. That's now changing. Columbus, and the rest of the nation, is seeing a mini boom in high-end barbershops that give guys, and their beards, the full treatment. 

Two such stores - Bates & Brown Barber Chair in Northwest Columbus and Goodfellows Tonsorial Parlor in German Village - opened this fall. At least two more are slated to open in 2017. They join the handful already in business around the city.

Holy Moses specializes in what its owner, Justin Perkins, calls a "comprehensive approach" to men's grooming. He thinks recently it’s become acceptable again for men to care about their hair.

“What the barber thing has brought back recently is masculinity into that, and I just think there’s less shame for a guy spending more time," Perkins says.

Charles Penzone would agree.

"I think they're ready to spend a little more, and a little more often, than they did in the past," Penzone says.

A cut at these barbershops does come at a premium. At Holy Moses, a haircut — which includes a shampoo, condition, straight-razor shave — starts at $35. At Bates & Brown, a cut comes with a hot lather neck shave and costs $34 or $42, depending if you take the package with aromatherapy and a scalp massage.

Credit Gabe Rosenberg
Justin Perkins, left, owns the Holy Moses barbershop. He says that for some, barbering has brought masculinity back into hair care.

Back To The Shop

Charles Penzone is a familiar name around Columbus. He's been running salons around the city for almost 50 years. 

But The Royal Rhino Club, in Italian Village, will be his first men-focused shop. He wants it to be a place men will want to hang out, too.

Penzone plans for the barbershop to have a fully-stocked and licensed bar, a pool table, and fine cigars for sale. The walls will feature an actual, vintage California Highway Patrol motorcycle, and a life-size picture of the Lone Ranger.

"Oh, it’ll reek of testosterone," he says, chuckling.

Credit The Charles Penzone Salons / Meyers & Associates
A mockup of the exterior of the Royal Rhino Club in Italian Village.

It's slated to open this spring, and Penzone brought in Phil Wade, who specializes in men's grooming, to manage and train the barbers.

"What you’re seeing now is the resurgence of barbering, is a culmination of old-world barber styles and skill levels being shared with other cultures," Wade says. 

After the long-hair and mustache days of the '60s and '70s, the number of barbershops in the United States declined for a few decades. That's largely because of men’s styles. The mullet aside, haircuts became more conservative again. Facial hair disappeared.

“For the middle class, white American male, it wasn’t as popular nowadays as it was in the past," Wade says.

Blame George Clooney

Ed Highley, interim director of the Ohio Barbers Board — which licenses and regulates barbers — says that up until recently, men didn’t demand specialized care.

“What I've seen in my career was, the change where maybe dad was still coming to the barber shop and mom was taking the sons either to her cosmetologist or one of the chains," Highley says.

Chains like Sports Clips and Supercuts started taking the places of barbershops - they were quick, convenient, and cheap. Especially if you were one of the thousands of men who wanted the same haircut as, say, George Clooney.

Credit Gabe Rosenberg
Bates & Brown opened in Northwest Columbus in December. It offers massages as well as haircuts and straight-razor shaves.

When Clooney starred in the television show "ER," he popularized a haircut known as the "Caesar," which was messier and easier to do.

"That changed everything," Perkins says. "I think a lot of people stopped going to a barbershop because of his haircut.” 

Now, Perkins points to the "fade" as the men's hair trend that drives people to a barber. It slims the face and puts volume on top of the head, which Perkins says is more flattering.

"It's a little more intense than what we've been seeing."

Training, Training, Training

Of course, attention to hair and facial hair haven't gone away for everyone.

"Beards are popular in black American culture," Wade says. "But it’s not just black American culture." "Latino culture, beards are huge. Middle-eastern, Persian, Iraq, Iran, Jerusalem, Kurdish — beards are popular." 

Which means barbers now have a lot more hairstyles, and facial hair styles, they need to be able to service.

Credit Gabe Rosenberg
Many of these barbershops, like Holy Moses, decorate with the intent of making a space where men will want to hang out.

Penzone and Perkins both say that the advanced training they require of their barbers is what sets these new, upscale shops apart. Their employees go through an additional training period, above and beyond their schooling, to learn about razors, shaving techniques, different beard and hair styles, and face treatments.

It's those skills, and the ability to develop relationships with customers, that can keep barbershops from becoming just another fad.

"You can make a beautiful place and you can serve the finest liquor," Penzone says, "but if the client doesn’t leave with an awesome haircut and a shave, it’s meaningless.”

Gabe Rosenberg joined WOSU in October 2016. As digital news editor, Gabe reports breaking news and edits all content for the WOSU website, as well as manages the station's social media accounts.