|Hair Parlor offers a salon cut at a Barbershop Price
By Chris Hansen - The TIMES News 2/9/01
In the twilight of the 19th century, American men went to barber shops furnished in golden oak and brass to get their hair trimmed and their faces shaved clean. The horns and heads of deer and bison were often mounted to the walls of these shops. To prevent the spread of disease regular customers often kept in a case their own shaving brushes and porcelain mugs with artwork marking their trade.
By the 1980s the number of barbershops in America had dwindled. Men had been turning to unisex hair styling salons since the 1960s. But many of them did not like going to the salons, says John Vaccaro, a former vice president with the Adam and Eve unisex salon chain.
So in 1995 Vaccaro launched the Barber Pole in Mt. Kisco to give men an alternative to the feminine atmosphere of the salon and the limited range of haircuts offered by barbershops. A Tarrytown shop followed, and, in 1999, The Barber Pole came to 1991 Palmer Ave. in Larchmont, a few doors down from the Clearview Cinemas Larchmont Playhouse.
A fourth Barber Pole, which Vaccaro hopes to open as early as this spring, may be coming to Rye's central business district. "Rye is a logical choice for us", he said, noting its boutiques, antique stores and heavy pedestrian traffic would suit his business well.
"Prior to our haircutting parlors, you had two choices as a consumer," Vaccaro said, "You either went to a barbershop or a beauty salon. I've tried to create a new entity. A step up from the barbershop, but not with all the frills of a beauty salon."
Vaccaro is a pioneer in the beauty industry. He invented and patented The Lacing Blade, a clipper attachment that creates volume in women's hair while removing the bulk, and The Perfect Trim, a home hair-trimming tool that he has promoted on the Home Shopping Network.
After seeing the number of male clients at Adam and Eve and other unisex chains fall sharply by the early 1990s, Vaccaro hired a Manhattan consulting firm to survey 500 men about what they liked and disliked about barbershops and salons.
The study found that men like the haircut they were getting at salons but little else. They said they did not feel comfortable in what they saw as a feminine atmosphere, they did not like to have to make appointments, they did not need their hair washed and blown dry, and they felt the $25 to $30 they were paying was too high.
Vaccaro tailored his business plan to satisfy the kind of men the survey profiled. And the result was an establishment that evoked what he calls "the golden age of barbershops" that is staffed by hair stylists instead of barbers. In New York State, Vaccaro explained, a licensed barber cannot cut hair in a salon. "I can see a barber cut from a block away," Vaccaro said. "Hair stylists tend to create a more balanced style."
All the haircuts at The Barber Pole cost $15 - a salon haircut at a barbershop price, Vaccaro says. He is able to do this by eliminating what many men see as frills, such as washing and blow-drying. "I survive on volume," Vacearo says.
To get a haircut at The Barber Pole is to step back in time. "If you walk into a barbershop in the 1890s," Vaccaro said, "this is exactly what you'd see." To make The Barber Pole as authentic as possible, Vaccaro visited a barbershop museum in Columbus, Ohio for ideas. The floors and barber stations are made of real oak. Change is given from a brass cash register from 1895. Several wooden red and white barber poles from the 1800s stand in the front of the store. A sidewalk display window features an example of the first reclining barber chair.
Vaccaro got into antique barbershop memorabilia to give his new business a unique edge. "I never collected anything in my life," Vaccaro said, "Before you knew it, I got hooked." He is now one of the top collectors in the country. He says that there are about 3,000 serious collectors in America today. Only about 20% of them are barbers, Vaccaro said. Many are doctors, lawyers and businessmen.
From badger hair shaving brushes to framed barbershop-related Saturday Evening Post covers to blood letting tools that recall the days when barbers did more than cut hair, all of the collectibles that fill The Barber Pole's walls and cases are marked with price tags. Everything is for sale. Those who already own "Barberiana" can bring it to Vaccaro for an appraisal.
The shaving mugs Vaccaro sells range from $25 to $100 although some mugs have sold at auction for almost $10,000. Old straight razors can be bought for $20 to $200.
Vaccaro says he plans to open two new Barber Pole's in Westchester, one of which may be in Rye, although the city's high rents may be prohibitive. After that he will consider franchising the company. Only licensed hairdressers will be eligible to own a Barber Pole.
Vaccaro says he has been approached by a consortium of attorneys who wanted to invest in the Barber Pole and take it nationwide by opening small branches in every major international airport as well as Grand Central Station. But he turned those proposals down. "The way to do this is to move slow," he said.
For now, those who want a salon haircut in a barbershop atmosphere at a barbershop price will have to go to Larchmont, Tarrytown, or Mount Kisco. Clients in Larchmont seem pleased to that they have a Barber Pole to go to. "This is a special place," said Gerald Varley, "This is down to earth."
Mike Nappi says he appreciates "the decor and the way they take care of you." As a nod to the golden age of barbershops, after each cut the Barber Poles hairstylists wrap the clients face in a steaming white towel and give him a neck and shoulder massage.
The secret is the massage at the end," Nappi said, "It's the best. Why would you go someplace else?"