“I want to come to a place that doesn’t have ‘Great,’ ‘Super,’ or ‘Fantastic’ in its name,” explains Debbie Mundahl, of Preserve Barbers, as I sit in her chair for my first haircut performed by an actual barber. The Eden Prairie barbershop contains two chairs in two different cubicles to create a sense of comfort and privacy, and encourages honest conversation with the barber. Decorative nature hangings adorn the walls, creating a space separate from the strip mall in which it is located. Snow-capped trees and wooden canoes invoke memories of family trips to cabins and campsites from Duluth and beyond.
Joel’s Barbershop in Victoria offers a different sort of comfort. Located in the ClockTower Building, Joel Gabrielson has created a space that screams man-cave. Neon beer signs are artfully displayed near a large plasma television streaming a Boston Bruins victory over the San Jose Sharks. Gabrielson describes his shop as an “old school men’s barber shop.” His specialties are flat tops, fades, and short cuts.
Joel’s Barbershop is the modern re-imagining of Glenn Goehring’s establishment, Chaska Barber Styling. Goehring has been running his one-chair operation for over 40 years, 38 of them in Chaska, and it isn’t hard to see why he has been so successful. He services somewhere between 700 to 1,000 clients all by himself. I ask him if it’s overwhelming to cut hair all on his own. Mundahl and Gabrielson each have another barber under their employ. But Goehring doesn’t seem to mind his taxing workload. “One-on-one creates better conversations,” he says.
Although Mundahl, Gabrielson, and Goehring have a reliable list of clients and are doing well, this trend isn’t true for all barbers. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that jobs for hairdressers, cosmetologists and barbers to increase to 100,000 jobs by 2020, with only 4,500 of those jobs going to barbers.
One possible explanation for this trend is that it is much easier to become a hairdresser than a barber. Moler Barber School in Minneapolis, Mundahl’s alma mater, requires a nine-month, 1,500 hour commitment for a barber license. Beauty school can be completed in six months, with fewer hours of training and practice. However, the benefit of beauty school is learning how to color, perm, and style.
Goehring understands the need for cosmetologists and respects their craft, but makes one distinction; “we cut the whole head of hair.” Simply put, if you’re looking for a better cut, seek out a barber. If you’re looking for color and style, consider a salon. Although, the barbers are no strangers to trends, and Mundahl says she is getting quite good at pulling off the Macklemore style-cut.
This barber-to-client interaction seems to be the glue that keeps the throngs of people returning to their barbers rather than a cosmetologist or a stylist. Mundahl and Gabrielson develop relationships with their clients as well. “I cry when they move, I go to funerals,” Mundahl says of her clients. Gabrielson explains that his clients see him as a confidant as well, and discuss their relationships, business, kids, and everything in-between. Goehring says it’s a “personal touch” which separates the barbers from their big-box salon competitors.
With such a small staff at each shop, the barbers are there every day. Goehring sees this as the best way to establish trust. The head and face are private, very intimate areas. How we choose to style and present them are what we see reflected back at us in the mirror every day, and how others perceive us as well. While Gabrielson says “it’s no longer Floyd in the white coat”, referring to a character in the 1960s hit television program, The Andy Griffith Show, it’s of little wonder that people still respond to and trust in someone who is always on call to take care of them.
Chaska Barber Styling
415 Chestnut St., Chaska; 952.500.3974