DOVER, N.H. — If you’ve seen more barbershops in recent times, your hair is not covering your eyes.
Barbering is booming both in the region and nationally, reversing a decline of barbering that started in the 1960s.
In the Granite State, New Hampshire Employment Security, a federally funded state agency, increased its rating of long-term growth prospects of the barbering occupation from favorable in 2010 to very favorable in 2016. The latest report, “New Hampshire’s Long-term Occupational Projections, 2014 to 2024,” projects the profession to grow by nearly 11 percent by 2024. Forbes Magazine reported in July that “barbering is the fastest-growing profession in the U.S.”
Sue Rowley, who has held a cosmetology and barbering licenses for the past 25 years, is an instructor at Empire Beauty School’s barbering program in Somersworth that started in 2006. The school filled a growing need in the region, but it wasn’t until 2010 when class sizes began noticeably increasing. Beards started making a comeback and so did hot shaves. She used only to see only one customer a week request a hot shave; now it’s once a day.
Bert Arseneault, a 52-year-old barber who cuts hair at Central Barber Shop on Central Avenue in downtown Dover, got his barbering license about six years ago after completing Somersworth’s six-month class with 14 students. The sessions before had only three or four students, he said. Arseneault is pleased with his profession choice. Business at the shop is brisk.
“We’re now just recovering from the Beatles and Vietnam,” he said of the barbering profession.
Men hairstyles in the 1960s grew from short to long and the need for regular hair cutting dwindled. Men no longer wanted their dad’s hairstyle nor did those not fighting in the unpopular Vietnam War want to look like those who did, Arseneault said.
During the decline, men also started going to salons instead of the barbershop. Rowley said it’s not uncommon for middle-aged men now to have never before stepped foot in a barbershop.
Nick Mitropoulos, a fellow barber at Central Barber, got his license 16 years ago. Since starting at the shop, it’s grown from one barber to three. At 51 years old, he and Arseneault are now considered the older barbers in town, he said. When he started, there were only three barbers in town, and all were in their 70s.
Down the street, Josh Hynes has opened two barbershops within a block of each other on Central Avenue since 2015. Best of Times began first, and Stronghold Barbershop opened this year. Because of the demand, he is still hiring barbers.
“We were right at the curve when barbering started to come back in full force,” he said. “In three years, we’ve over doubled our staff in two locations. It’s a really rapid increase of businesses.”
Hynes said men became more image-conscious around the turn of the century. Men’s hairstyles became shorter since then and that increased the need for regular cuts. Also, “The quality of haircuts has stepped up through the years,” he said. Hynes said barbers of years ago typically gave one haircut no matter what the cut customer requested.
He decided to become a barber after he found himself in a barber chair once a week.
“I went from getting my hair cut once a month, to once every three weeks to once every two weeks to once a week,” Hynes said. He had a tight haircut then, a skin fade. “After a week, the skin fade wasn’t a skin fade anymore. It didn’t feel like my haircut,” he said. “I became borderline obsessive with getting my hair cut and keeping it clean and precise.”
Hynes also received his barber training at Empire in Somersworth. He has had a few customers go there for training who then came to work at his shops.
Charmaine Coleman, school director at Empire Beauty, said she sees much success for many of her students. “Ninety to 95 percent are being hired even before graduating,” Coleman said.
In Kittery, Maine, two barbershops have opened nearby on Shapleigh Road since August. Brittany Horst co-owns one of those, named the Rusty Razor. She’s been cutting hair for about four years now. She also has a cosmetology license but prefers the barbershop. “I like the idea of seeing many people in one day instead of a few,” Horst said. “That’s what drew me more to barbering than working in a salon.”
Longtime barber Sandy Cole, who has cut hair at Clip Joint Barbers in downtown Portsmouth for 20 years, said business has been steady for years but has increased in the past five years. She attributes that increase to when the shop moved from Pleasant Street to a more visible location on Daniel Street, just outside Market Square.
The only time she saw a decline in business was in 2004, which she attributed to former Red Sox player Johnny Damon and his then long locks in the year the Red Sox won its first World Series title since 1918. “Literally, no one was cutting his hair,” she said. “He was growing his hair and everyone else for that matter.”
While there is a rise of barbershops, Arsenault and Mitropoulos said it hasn’t reached its former peak. They said at that time, there were barbershops all over the Garrison City.
George Maglaras, the longtime Strafford County Commissioner, would agree with that. He grew up in the barbering business. Even though his father only lasted a week as a barber, his grandfather was a barber and as were his three uncles. They cut hair at Dan & Sons Barbershop on Central Avenue, which his grandfather started. Maglaras recalled when he was young, the barbershop also had a bathhouse where mill workers would pay 25 cents to take a bath once a week. “A lot of homes didn’t have running water,” he said. The shop would also have spittoons for the many customers who chewed tobacco.
Dan & Sons spent most of its years where the old Foster’s Daily Democrat building stands at the corner of Central and Washington before it moved to a building from across from City Hall. The uncles were active in city politics and John Maglaras spent 22 years on the council and served a term as mayor. The barbershop became known as “Little City Hall.”
“It was a different era,” George Maglaras said. “The barbershop was the place where hair was cut, and a deal was struck.”
While there may be fewer deals in the barbershop these days, it’s still the place to catch up on the latest news or gossip. Hynes says he always hears what is going on first at the barbershop. The barbershop was the first social media, he said.
Information from: Portsmouth Herald, http://www.seacoastonline.com