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Shave and a Haircut, Two Bits: The Rise and Fall…and Rise again…of the Barber Shop

By: Joleene DesRosiers Moody
The traditional barbershop is rich in history.

The late 1800s to the mid 1900s was the golden age for the shops, bringing men of all ages in for shaves, haircuts and fraternal conversation.

Full service barber shops are still very much alive.
Full service barber shops are still very much alive.

But, during the Second World War, business dropped.

Even the birth of the razor minimized the number of haircuts barbers did.

There was a small resurgence in the 1950s, but it didn’t last long.

As the 1960s and 1970s came to be, men began to grow out their ducktails to display long, full, locks of peace loving, rock-n-roll hair.

Many barbers were left with very few customers.

Despite the ever-changing styles that men have tolerated throughout the decades, barbershops still thrive today, pumping out haircut after haircut for men and boys alike.

The barbers are still the same, too, predominately male, save the traditional white coat and thick, coarse moustache (at least in Oswego County).

There are a handful of barbershops in the city of Oswego.

The Downtown Barber and Shave Co. remains true to the history of barbershops.
The Downtown Barber and Shave Co. remains true to the history of barbershops.

The Downtown Barber and Shave Co. is fairly new, pulling off the look of a traditional barber shop with a bit of modernity.

Owners Harrison Noel and Keith Hawkins opened the shop in the Canal Commons with the tagline, “Clean Cuts. Close Shaves. It’s a guy thing.”

“We pay attention to detail,” co-owner Noel said as he carefully buzzes at his customer’s head. “We cut men’s hair all day. I would say we’re much more skilled and focused on men than a hairdresser would be at a unisex salon.”

Noel is cutting a flattop on the older gentleman seated beneath his razor.

“The flattop will never go out of style,” he said, remaining focused on his customer. “You can get a cut somewhat like this at a salon, but they don’t have the tools to cut it this close. Barbers have tools that hairdressers don’t. We do shaves, too. Full service, straight razor shaves. And we do a lot of them.”

East Side Barbers is on East Bridge Street in Oswego.
East Side Barbers is on East Bridge Street in Oswego.

East Side Barbers on East Bridge Street in Oswego delivers the same thing.

Open since 2007, the shop offers nostalgic appeal with a different kind of barber – a female. Owner Santa Borsetti said it’s not unusual to find female barbers cutting, trimming and shaving today.

“When I started back in the 1980s, it was unusual for a woman to be doing it then,” she said. “And really, anyone can go barber school. It’s whether or not you have that knack to do it after you graduate. My girl has the knack.”

Borsetti agrees that the services rendered at a barbershop are much different from services rendered at a beauty salon.

“We trim any hair on your head from eyebrows, to nose to ears. That’s something beauticians don’t do,” she pointed out.

Harrison Noel cuts the traditional flat top.
Harrison Noel cuts the traditional flat top.

For barber-goer Bill Hall, there is no other place to go when it comes time for a haircut.

“Been doin’ barbershops all my life,” he said. “I’m originally from New York and the shops there are a dime a dozen. I’ve tried salons, but it’s just not the same. They smell like chemicals. At a barbershop I feel more – (he pauses here and laughs) – manly!”

The clientele today is the same as it’s always been; young boys to retired men.

“We get a lot of college students, but we get the older generation, too,” Borsetti said. “They love it because it brings back memories from when they were young and their own father used to take them to a real barber shop.”

Noel recognizes a gap with his clients.

“We appeal to the generations before us, but also to the college crowd,” he said. “So we do have an age gap. We have retirees, and then young men college age. We’re busy, very busy. We just hired another full-time barber, so now we have four full-time barbers.”

Despite the ups and downs barbershops have seen over the years, it’s clear they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Noel believes more shops will emerge as larger, more populated cities find the need.

The traditional barber pole greets customers at the East Side Barber Shop.
The traditional barber pole greets customers at the East Side Barber Shop. 

“Barber shops will always be,” he said. “Men always have to have a shave. A haircut, they can get anywhere. But a shave is different. You can only get it at a barbershop. Perhaps we don’t see a lot of barber shops in this area, but that doesn’t mean they’re disappearing. There’s resurgence in metropolitan areas. And there is a handful in Oswego. So I think we’re good.“

Did you know?Did you know that early barbers also practiced bloodletting?

During the intentional bleeding process, patients would grasp onto a rod as the barber cut into his veins, bleeding him until he fainted.

After the procedure, the barber would rinse out the bandages and hang them outside on a pole to dry.

Flapping in the wind, the long strips of bandages would twist around the pole in the spiral pattern we now associate with barbers.

4 Comments

  1. “The barbers are still the same, too, predominately male, save the traditional white coat and thick, course moustache …”

    Coarse, not course. Unless they are taking a class, of course!

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