Chuck Crawford gave up the storefront barber pole two years ago, but instead of hanging up his scissors as so many barbers before him have, he moved into a new shop more aptly described as a private studio.
The room where Crawford trims beards, shaves necklines and offers hair replacement has a babbling rock fountain and a view of a lush courtyard. Clients in the waiting room relax in overstuffed chairs to the tunes of Kenny G.
Upscale barbering is beginning to spread outside trendsetting areas such as New York and Los Angeles as more barbers try to win back customers lost to the more stylish salons. Barbers are replacing checkerboard tiles with polished parquet and emphasizing privacy rather than the boisterous camaraderie of older shops. They are hiring stylists, nail technicians and massage therapists.
The Men's Room in Rochester, N.Y., has minibars and Xbox game consoles. "It's got your corner barbershop feel with spa amenities," co-owner Sherry Eiler said.
Some barbers, such as Crawford, owner of Crawford Hair Designers, focus on shaving and unique clipper cutting. But, increasingly, barbers are teaming with cosmetologists, who often are licensed to offer services barbers cannot -- including coloring and perming hair, and giving facials and manicures.
Barbers used to scoff at the thought of hiring cosmetologists, but they made up a quarter of barbershop employees in 2001, and that number is rising, said Gordon Miller, executive director of the National Cosmetology Association. "Barbershops, which over the last 30 years have been very much on the decline, in order to survive have had to rethink their service menus," he said.
Between 1960 and 2001, the number of licensed barbers fell by 48 percent, while the number of cosmetologists rose by 213 percent, U.S. Census figures show.
Rodayo's Barber Spa in Raleigh, N.C., will have barbers and cosmetologists on staff when it opens in November. Owner Valerie Willis said she wants to preserve the art of the straight-razor shave while giving men a place where they can ask for a pedicure without whispering.
Generally, haircuts from a high-end barber still come cheaper than those from salons. A cut at the Men's Room costs $24. That is about twice the price a traditional barber would charge but half the cost of many salon stylings.
Since 2001, barbers have been making a slow resurgence, and the U.S. Department of Labor expects the number of barbers to grow by 6 percent by 2012. That is lower than the average 28 percent growth expected for all personal care services, but it represents a turnaround in a trade that had been on a decades-long decline.
Crawford, who also serves as president of the Ohio Barber Association, hopes modernization will at least keep the storied profession alive. "We as barbers need to remember our past and be proud of our past," Crawford said. "I feel very confident we will survive, but it's up to the individual owners."