A cut above

Héctor Masner puts the finishing touches on a haircut at York Barber Shop. An An old-school aesthetic prevails at the Lexington Avenue shop. Photo: Shoshy Ciment
Reflecting a national trend, grooming is booming on the Upper East Side

Shuttered storefronts and the decline of the mom-and-pop shop might characterize an increasing share of the business landscape on the Upper East Side. But one trade is enjoying a renaissance.

Elegant Barber Shop, a men’s styling salon based in New York, recently negotiated a long-term lease in Lenox Hill, its fourth location in the city. The salon joins dozens of other barbershops and grooming salons in that neighborhood.

The store’s opening, on East 61st Street, mirrors a national trend: Barbershops, specifically those for men’s grooming, are on the rise.

“The uptick began 10-15 years ago in response to men (mostly baby boomers), seeking the more traditional male domain of the barbershops and skill sets of barbers of their youth instead of the unisex salons and cosmetology trained practitioners that began during the 1970s,” said Maura Scali-Sheahan, CEO of the National Association of Barber Boards of America, which maintains professional standards in the barbering industry.

Scali-Sheahan said that barbering is likely one of the fastest growing professions in the personal appearance industry in the United States, as evidenced in the increase of barber schools and licensees throughout the country over the past 15 years.

“More barber schools result in more graduates, more licensees entering the workforce, and in many cases an increase in shop ownership,” explained Scali-Sheahan, who added that the growth in barbershops appears to be on par with the growth of licensed barbers in the U.S.

But what is it about going to a barbershop that resonates with a populace increasingly obsessed with convenience and instant gratification?

“Experience is the core of where retail is heading,” said Faith Hope Consolo, a real estate broker with Douglas Elliman who often works at the nexus of fashion and retail and who negotiated Elegant Barber Shop’s latest lease. Barbershops are thriving because of the range of grooming services and treatments they offer for men and the experience that cannot be replaced by a machine.

Many barbershops on the Upper East Side have capitalized on this idea. York Barber Shop, a traditional barbershop in Lenox Hill that maintains the decor and atmosphere from its initial establishment in 1928, is proof that an exceptional grooming experience cannot be ordered online.

“It’s very simple,” explained Enrique Peralt, the owner of York Barber Shop. “The business is divided into two types of business: money-makers and quality-makers.”

To Peralt, who has been in the barbering business for 60 years, quality service should be a barbershop’s chief priority — and enticement.

“I don’t want a client for one day,” Peralt said in his Lexington Avenue shop while a Natalie and Nat King Cole duet played in the background. “I want a client to come in and out. I want them repeated and when they come back, we’ll talk, and eventually we’ll have a good friendship relationship, which is important to me.”

Elegant Barber Shop, though a relatively newer business, also relies on this old-school commitment to quality service.

“We want to collect many good quality customers that come in, enjoy, and stay with us for a long time,” Elegant’s owner, Maksim Khon, said.

But Elegant departs slightly from old-school barbering by offering modern cuts and a trendy atmosphere to attract customers. Clients are also offered beer or liquor on the house and are given the option for a free wash with their cut.

“Old-school barbering is different,” Khon said. “It’s a completely different vibe.”

Khon, a third-generation barber, works seven days a week cutting hair and managing his business. His main goal, he said, is to make sure his customers experience an affordable haircut while having a pleasant experience.

“For us, barbering is not about making money,” he reflected. “It’s a lifestyle.”