Saturday, November 28, 2009


Local TV personality Al Alberts passed away yesterday. His show, Al Alberts Showcase, was a Sunday staple here in Philadelphia for decades. The show was basically a talent show for children, which made it wonderfully strange (Keep in mind this was before 500 channels and/or Adult Swim). Every year, each weekly show led up the crowning of "Little Miss Showcase".

I might start calling people "Little Miss Showcase". I'm old; I can do that now.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

9 Days, 7 Barber Shops, Zero Haircuts

I really didn't mean for this to become such a project. Though to be honest, for better or worse (probably worse), that is in my nature.

Two Tuesdays ago, I headed into work early to get my hair cut. I am in at 3pm on Tuesdays, so got there at 2:15. I walked from work to my normal barber. As I have found too often before, the lights were on, the sign said "OPEN" but the door was locked and he was nowhere to be found. I'd say 6 of out 10 of my attempts to get my hair cut by him have ended in me finding him not there. He doesn't have hours posted, so I have an assumed schedule for him based on hit and miss experience. Sort of like playing Battleship. I assume his hours to be Tue to Fri 11am to 4:30pm, Sat 10am to noon.

I don't even expect barbers to have convenient hours. I work shift work, so I can deal with businesspeople who think they don't need to keep hours where most people with jobs can actually give them money. God forbid they should arrange their lives to make it easy on their customers. And even with already low expectations, I am being consistently let down.

When I lived a block away, it was only about 3 minutes wasted when he wasn't there; now a trip there has to be worked into my work schedule plotted against his expected appearances at his shop. I decided after the last haircut, which took 4 visits to successfully find him there, the next time he wasn't there, I was giving up attempting to give him money.

So after walking there in the rain, he wasn't there. Getting wetter, I go to a barber a block away. I had tried to give this barber a go twice before when the other guy was MIA. Both times, this guy was out also. Maybe they have lunch together. This guy at least has hours posted, but same deal. Lights on, sign says "OPEN" but the door locked. This guy at least has a sign indicating he would be back at 2:55, but I had no intention of waiting in the rain for him AND being late for work. So I decide, screw both of them if they can't be around. I never liked playing Battleship.

As this is now a to do, I decide on some barber criteria:
  • I want to go to a real barber shop, not a hair salon. If I wanted to go a salon, I'd go to BellaLisa. I had complained about barbers earlier and Lisa said her shop did men's hair too. A hair salon should be a sanctuary for women to gossip and sit under hair dryers, etc. Men shouldn't intrude on that.
  • posted hours. These hours don't even need to be convenient, merely posted.
  • actually being open during posted hours. They don't even need to be open many hours per week, just be there when they advertise to be. I don't think this is too much to ask of a business that is open to the public.
  • facade that isn't an eyesore which reflects badly on the neighborhood.
  • preferably a shop with more than one barber. If a barber wanted a break or to take a day off, the shop could still be open, sort of like my doctor's office. You might not get your first choice of doctor, but there is one there. A single employee operation would be fine, if they were actually there at predictable times.
  • I would prefer a barber that is either walking distance from my house or from work.
  • an old fashioned barber pole would be nice.
That Friday I do reconnaissance of the neighborhood around my house. There are four barber shops near by. There was another but it closed (which was my first stop, or in this case stop zero).
  1. The first stop takes me to a guy that has turned his living room into a barber shop. He has a good reputation. He has a sign; his hours are posted in the window. His house looks nice. I notice that he lists being open 6 days. I expect the hours are highly optimistic for a single employee business. I note that he opens at 9:30am on Saturdays.
  2. There is a shop on the Avenue that I wasn't sure if he was still open. When I walk by on Mondays, the solid security grate is pulled down and there is no indication of any active business behind it. When closed up, it looks slummy. No sign, nothing. Anyway this shop was very close to the first one so I take a look at it on my reconnaissance anyway. Barber pole lights in the window (a plus), but no hours posted, and no sign that is visible once the ugly security grate is pulled down. No hours posted and being an eyesore means this guy is out.
  3. The third place is a black barbershop. Rightly or wrongly I wonder if they cut white people hair. While not a beautiful business, it is acceptable. They have hours listing them as being open 6 days. It's promising.
  4. The shop closest to me has numerous cheaply made signs on it including Barber Shop, Latina Musica, and Internet cafe. They have their hours posed. They are open 7 days a week.While not a beautiful business, at least it is an entrepreneur trying to make a go of it. As someone who started out with very little capital, I respect that.
  1. Guy number 1 wins the reconnaissance, so I go there the next day, which is Saturday, at 11am. He is locked up tight. I check the hours in the window; yep he is supposed to be open. But he's not, so he's out. Been there done that. Ain't doing it anymore. He sunk my battleship.
  2. No 2 was out for the reasons already noted.
  3. Having failed on Saturday to get my hair cut, I give Latina Musica a shot on Sunday. They indeed are open as advertised. There is a young guy cutting hair. I take a seat. There are people lounging in the pica musica section speaking in Spanish and the barber and customer are chatting a little in Spanish. I comprehend little Spanish, but the language disadavantage doesn't bother me. If anything, it keeps things interesting. No one speaks to me for 30 minutes. As the barber is about to finish with the customer, a guy from the back asks me in English, what I want done. I say, a trim. He tells me the barber there can't cut with scissors and while another barber has been called, there it is not known when or if he will show up. He didn't want me to waste my time sitting there. I note that they had already wasted 30 minutes of my time and leave. So that's 3 down.
  4. Walking into work Monday morning, I make a point to pass a corner rowhouse basement barber shop that I am aware of. There is a nice sign. It's before 7am, so I don't expect them to be open. The house is very well maintained. No hours are posted, so I give up on that guy too. I don't plan on playing Battleship to attempt to ascertain his hours of operation.
  5. I gave the black barber shop a chance today, which is Wednesday. They were locked up tight at 10:45am; they supposedly had been open since 9:30am. So they are now out too.
So here I am day 9, still with long unruly hair. My options are to increase my perimeter or go to a salon. I will try a little more with perimeter expansion.

Conclusion: Barber shops seem to be the last bastion of small business suckiness. Most other small business categories where most of the enterprises suck have been given death blows by national chains with convenient and consistent hours. As a small business owner I know how hard it is, so I make herculean attempts to support small business. As a consumer, I see that it often just isn't worth it. As a small business owner, that pisses me off because it makes all of us small guys look crappy by association. It makes people think bigger is always better. Sadly it usually is. But when small business is better, it's usually way, way better.

Running a half decent barber shop really shouldn't be that hard. Find a store, get two chairs, hire someone to help, get a sign, pick some hours (at least 4 days, including a weekend and at least one evening), post the hours, make sure someone is there to cut hair when you claim to be open. Eventually buy a barber pole. Out of the numerous barber shops around here, why can't one figure that out? Why can't two solo guys, team up, share space and have convenient hours between them? It's mind boggling.

Follow Up: Billy Harztel, sitting on the better side of the bar, saw my Facebook post on his phone and commented on it when I got into work. The customers have been turning over since I got here, but my lack of barber success has been a reoccurring topic for the afternoon.

As well as good natured ball breaking, I got some tips. Craig recommended a place on Robbins (to be known as Chinese Barbers #1). Jeff told me some stories about the security grate barber and why he doesn't go there anymore. He said told me about Chinese Barbers #2 on Princeton Ave. Chinese Barbers #2 even have convenient hours, being open til 7pm every night. I'll be heading over there tomorrow.