Dormont barber abuzz about community support
On a recent evening, all three barbers at Kool’s Barber Shop in Dormont had customers in their chairs. Still other customers waited patiently for their turn.
Owner Josh Maddox, who was using clippers on 7-year-old Robert Coleman III, said the barbershop, open less than a year, has built a loyal customer base.
“We get a lot of our customers the traditional way: through word of mouth,” said Maddox, 28, of Bethel Park. “We’ve just been busy from the start.”
Maddox grew up in Dormont and thought it made good business sense to stay where his clients are. He worked at Cheek’s Barbershop on Greentree Road in Green Tree and had built a following.
“We’ll cut anyone’s hair,” he said of his West Liberty Avenue location.
Beginning in the 1970s, the number of neighborhood barbershops began to dwindle nationwide as unisex salon chains proliferated. Ken Jaram, owner of the Barber School of Pittsburgh, said the corner barbershop was almost “knocked out of existence.”
Census Bureau figures show that in 2012, the most recent year for which numbers were available, there were 3,779 barbershops in the United States, down from 4,293 in 2007. The number of larger and smaller establishments declined during that span.
But according to the Department of Labor, the trend might be changing. Employment for barbers is expected to grow 10 percent from 2014 to 2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“Guys started wanting someone trained to do different, stylish haircuts that were very precise,” Jaram said, explaining that the “fade” — hair trimmed close on the back and sides but coiffed and styled on top — helped with barbers’ resurgence. “Once (customers) had that experience at a barber, they didn’t want to go back to a larger chain store.”
Jaram operates one of 17 barber schools in the state. He has locations in Ambridge, Beaver County, and in Pittsburgh’s West End, with a third set to open in Monroeville next year. He said he averages about 40 graduates per year. All go through a nine-month program that includes more than 1,200 hours of training.
About 80 percent of Barber School of Pittsburgh graduates get their licenses with plans to open their own shops, Jaram said.
“With beauty school, you tend to have graduates who want to get into the industry,” Jaram said. “Barber schools attract a lot of entrepreneurs who want their own business and are passionate about barbering.”
Maddox said he has benefited from staying in his hometown. His storefront is owned by a family friend, so when he wanted to open his shop, he had a place to land. Another family friend painted a mural on the wall, which became the shop’s logo: a barber’s razor with the Pittsburgh skyline silhouetted in the blade.
What Maddox described as a tight-knit barber community in Pittsburgh also has served him well, he said, as he was able to find employees. That led Maddox to Tyler Schell.
An Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient, Schell moved to Dormont thanks to the Homes for Heroes, a Minnesota-based real estate company that provides home-buying assistance for military members, firefighters, police, among others. A mutual acquaintance who knew Schell was looking for work as a barber connected him to Maddox.
“All barbers in Pittsburgh know each other,” said Schell, who has worked at Kool’s since it opened in April.
Jeremy Primorac, 27, also works at Kool’s. He said he knows Maddox from Jaram’s barber school. The steady stream of customers doesn’t surprise him.
“There aren’t many barbers in Dormont, real barbers,” he said. There’s only one rule as far as Primorac is concerned: “Don’t talk politics, and don’t talk religion. Then everyone gets along fine.”
As his son, Robert, sat in Maddox’s chair, Robert Coleman Jr. waited with his two other children. The elder Coleman said he brings his children to Kool’s and gets his own hair cut there even though they live in Bellevue, about a half-hour away.
“When you find a good barber, you keep him,” Coleman said. “He’s worth the drive.”
Kim Lyons is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.